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On a certain day a few months ago I found room 
in a mind occupied with many other subjects for 
a distinct pang of regret, and the next morning 
I woke with that vague sense of something having 
gone wrong with which so many of us of uncertain 
spirits are familiar. About three years ago I paid 
a visit to Carlsbad, and, after some days of dreadful 
loneliness and appalling depression, I fell in with a 
covey of Americans. Whenever I meet Americans 
I am always at home. It takes me exactly three 
minutes — I have sometimes done it in even shorter 
ti m e — to get into such thorough sympathy with 
any American man or woman — except the odious 
tribe of Anglo-maniacs — as to be able to talk to 
them, and to hear from them about all those subjects 

1 Lincoln : The True Story of a Great Life, by William 
Herndon. London : Sampson Low & Co. 


'2 :..:/•"•. -.-Some Old Love Stories 

which we keep to ourselves in casual intercourse 
with people of other nationalities — our emotions, 
upbringing, life, and faith, and death. In the 
American colony at Carlsbad there was one figure 
which stood out in very bold relief. Every morning 
there was rolled up to one of the springs, in a bath- 
chair, a singularly tall, enormously broad-shouldered, 
large-faced, large-featured man, whose feet, swollen 
by gout, were unable to bear his heavy frame. 
A striking figure, indeed, he was in any crowd. 
When he did stand up, he towered above every- 
body else, and, as is not always the case, his frame 
was broad in proportion. Altogether, he was one 
of the most remarkable specimens of a splendid 
Western man I have ever seen. Gout seemed to 
be his one ailment. Though he had had a life of 
fierce and vivid and, I have no doubt, roystering 
adventure, he was still in the very bloom of strength ; 
he was not a ruin, but if he were, he was one of 
the most majestic ruins I have ever seen. And 
what a fascination he had ! There is something 
trying to the nerves in Americanese to those who 
have not learned the language ; but when you 
have acquired it, there is a singular attraction in 
its slow drawl, its curious serenity, and what I may 
call passionate composure ; in its delightful indi- 
viduality, its eccentricity 01 view — its perfect 
simplicity and startling and fascinating frankness. 
I can say that I spent literally hours in spellbound 
and silent listening to this wonderful man. The 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 3 

one subject on which my friend was exhaustless, 
on which he was never tired of talking, and I never 
tired of listening, was Abraham Lincoln. For 
my friend was Ward Lamon. Ward Lamon had 
been for years the friend, the law-partner, the con- 
fidential adviser, sometimes the daring guardian of 
Abraham Lincoln's personal protection against the 
lurking assassin and the ubiquitous rowdy. I have 
always looked forward to many another encounter 
with my dear old friend ; and assuredly that splendid 
frame, that massive head, that robust appetite, sug- 
gested long years of life and strength. And now 
I take up accidentally an obscure American journal 
and find that he has passed beyond these voices, 
and now is nothing but a mournful memory. 


For the next hour or two I shall walk by his 
side in spirit, for I shall try with the aid of another 
pen than his, but under the illumination I received 
from his conversation, to draw a portrait of his 
hero and his friend. Many people indeed will 
probably be startled to know that Abraham 
Lincoln had a love story at all. There are few 
modern contemporary characters of whose inner 
life so little is known among Englishmen. And 
yet there are few lives that have in them more of 
picturesqueness, pathos, suffering, — that bring more 

4 Some Old Love Stories 

home to ones mind the tears that are in most 
human lots, that illustrate better the contrast 
between the outer and the inner life of a great 
public man. I put Lincoln's history among my 
list of love stories for this reason, that there were 
few men whose lives were more profoundly in- 
fluenced by women ; that it is to the breakdown 
of a great love the world probably owes his political 
greatness, and he himself a life of inner gloom, 
which almost recalls the brooding melancholy that 
still speaks to us in the harsh and upbraiding 
accents of Swift's epitaph and tomb. 


THERE is another and a more widespread moral 
from the life of Lincoln — the enormous, the in- 
extinguishable influence of early years, and 
especially if those years have been marked by 
poverty and suffering. Further, his story is — as 
he himself discovered — a very curious study in 
heredity, in the transmission of tendencies, quali- 
ties, and alas! also in the reminiscences of the 
bitter and sorrowful experiences of others — of 
others who were dust before the children of the 
children of their loins had put on mortal flesh. 
And of all things in heredity this perpetuation of 
ancient sorrows is one of the most curious and 
saddening manifestations. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 5 

The origin of Abraham Lincoln was not merely 
poor and squalid, it had in it something of, I will 
not say disgrace, but of disrepute. In the Southern 
States of America there used to be before the war 
a curious nondescript and very despised class that 
broke the vast interspace between the aristocratic 
planter on the one side and the negro slave on the 
other. In the depths of poverty, — ignorant, — super- 
stitious, — nomadic, — despised by the wealthy whites 
as a disgrace to their complexion, — looked down on 
even by the negroes — who are great admirers of 
fine blood — as degenerate specimens of the dominant 
race, — the " Poor Whites," as they were called, were 
almost a helot and an outcast class. To the race 
of " Poor Whites " the parents of Abraham Lincoln 
emphatically belonged. He himself felt this so 
sorely that rarely throughout his whole life could 
he be got to make any allusions to his early days, 
and whenever he did so, it was always with a 
sense of recurring pain and embittered humiliation. 
Indeed, the awkwardness of his manners, his shy- 
ness, his gloom — all these things are attributed by 
his biographer partly to the recollection and the 
abiding sense of humiliation at these early sur- 
roundings. This curious trait is very remarkable 
in America. There, vast changes of fortune are 
common, and often occur within the narrow 
compass of one life ; and there also humbleness of 
origin, except in some of the Southern States and 
the Eastern cities, is too common among those who 

6 Some Old Love Stories 

have risen to the highest places and vastest fortunes 
to excite any comment. It is also one of the many 
beneficent results of republican training and a 
universal system of education, that the American, 
who has risen from even the humblest beginnings, 
has a refinement of manner, an easy and unaffected 
self-confidence and self-respect, that enable him to 
fit into any new position. He is entirely free from 
the crawling servility or the bouncing self-assertion 
which are the characteristic vices of the nouveaux 
riches of older countries. It is, therefore, evident 
that Lincoln was conscious not merely of poverty, 
but also of a certain shamefulness in his birth. It 
was also his unhappy lot to be in the very fore- 
front of the fight between the civilization of the old 
South and the Northern States. He was, as we shall 
see, almost entirely Southern in his origin, like a 
good many others of the foremost and most potent 
champions of the North ; and in the heat of that 
awful struggle, he doubtless was often reminded 
by the pen of Southern journalists of the circum- 
stances of his origin in the ferocious language of 
the times. 


THERE was a further reason for reticence and 
shamefacedness. In at least one instance, there 
was the stain of illegitimacy in the family. Here 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 7 

is a passage from the book before me, which brings 
out this fact, and which will serve as a very vivid 
picture of what Abraham Lincoln was like in his 
many varying and quickly succeeding moods — 

On the subject of his ancestry and origin, I only remember 
one time when Mr. Lincoln ever referred to it. It was about 
1850, when he and I were driving in his one-horse buggy to 
the court in Menard County, Illinois. The suit we were 
going to try was one in which we were likely, either directly 
or collaterally, to touch upon the subject of hereditary traits. 
During the ride he spoke for the first time in my hearing 
of his mother, and dwelling on her characteristics, and 
mentioning or enumerating what qualities he inherited 
from her, he said, among other things, that she was the 
illegitimate daughter of Lucy Hanks and of a well-bred 
Virginian farmer or planter, and he argued that from 
this last source came his power of analysis, his logic, his 
mental activity, his ambition, and all the qualities that 
distinguished him from the other members and descendants 
of the Hanks family. His theory in discussing the matter of 
hereditary traits had been that, for certain reasons, illegiti- 
mate children are oftentimes sturdier and brighter than those 
born in legitimate wedlock, and in his case he believed that 
his better nature and finer qualities came from this broad- 
minded, unknown Virginian. The revelation, painful as it 
was, called up the recollection of his mother, and as the 
buggy jolted over the road, he added ruefully — " God bless 
my mother ! all that I am or ever hope to be I owe to her," 
and he immediately lapsed into silence. Our interchange of 
ideas ceased as we rode on for some time without exchanging 
a word He was sad and absorbed. Burying himself in 
thought, and musing no doubt over the disclosure he had 
just made, he drew around him a barrier which I feared to 
penetrate. His words and melancholy tone made a deep 
impression on me. It was an experience I can never for- 
get. As we neared the town of Petersburg we were over- 
taken by an old man who rode beside us for a while, and 
entertained us with reminiscences of days on the frontier. 

8 Some Old Love Stories 

Lincoln was reminded of several Indian stories, and by the 
time we had reached the unpretentious court-house the sad- 
ness had passed away. 

It is curiously characteristic of the squalor of 
poor Lincoln's early days, that even the circum- 
stances of his birth are subject to dispute. It was 
always contended that there was no resemblance 
whatever between him and his putative father, 
either mentally or physically. Hence there grew 
up a legend that even he was not legitimate, but 
that he was the son of a miller, that Thomas 
Lincoln adopted him and passed as his father, and 
that his gifts and ambition were to be traced 
thus to a different source from that of his putative 

This theory, I believe, is found to be far-fetched. 
There is much more resemblance between Lincoln 
and his parents than perhaps might at first sight 
appear. Certainly Thomas Lincoln was one of 
the most hopeless of parents. Thoroughly idle, 
incompetent, his whole life was a nomadic flight 
from one bankrupt career to another. He was a 
rough carpenter and also a farmer, a mixture of 
trades which has its own lesson as to the primitive 
conditions under which he lived. He belonged to 
the Southern State of Kentucky, his ancestors 
having moved there from Virginia. Everybody 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 9 

who knows anything of America will know that 
there could not be two more characteristically 
Southern States than Virginia and Kentucky, and 
will understand, therefore, some of the bitterness 
with which the Southerners regarded the man who 
crushed their attempt to divide America. 

It will be found by and by that there were not 
wanting in Abraham Lincoln's character some of 
the traits of shiftlessness, bad economy, and rest- 
lessness which characterized his father. It was 
from his mother, however, as has been seen, that 
he traced most of his gifts, and undoubtedly there 
is something in the picture of her — faint as it is — 
which will account for some of the traits of the 
great man to whom she gave birth. Nancy Hanks 
was the name of Lincoln's mother ; and much of 
the scurrility of which he was the object, centres 
round her name. I have just alluded to the fact 
that she was supposed to have brought to old 
Thomas Lincoln's house the son of another man. 
This story is probably untrue ; but it is evident 
that, like her husband, she belonged to the poorest 
of the poor. All the accounts of her people also 
show them to have been thriftless, nomadic waifs 
who never did very well. And yet there is some- 
thing in the story of the humble mother which 
accounts for her bringing so brilliant a son into the 
world ; that also marks her as a pathetic and 
touching figure in his history and the history of 
her country. 

io Some Old Love Stories 

Here is a description of her which is well worth 
reproduction — 

At the time of her marriage to Thomas Lincoln, Nancy 
was in her twenty-third year. She was above the ordinary 
height in stature, weighed about one hundred and thirty 
pounds, was slenderly built, and had much the appearance 
of one inclined to consumption. Her skin was dark, her hair 
dark-brown, eyes grey and small, forehead prominent, face 
sharp and angular, with a marked expression of melancholy 
which fixed itself in the memory of every one who ever saw 
or knew her. Though her life was seemingly beclouded by 
a spirit of sadness, she was in disposition amiable and 
generally cheerful. Mr. Lincoln himself said to me in 185 1, 
on receiving the news of his father's death, that, whatever 
might be said of his parents, and however uncompromising 
the early surroundings of his mother may have been, she was 
highly intellectual by nature, had a strong memory, acute 
judgment, was cool and heroic. From a mental standpoint 
she no doubt rose above her surroundings, and had she lived, 
the stimulus of her nature would have accelerated her son's 
success, and she would have been a much more ambitious 
prompter than his father ever was. 


One of the things I remember to have heard 
suggested by my poor friend Ward Lamon, was 
that a good deal of Lincoln's gift of speech came 
from the religious instincts of his mother. She 
belonged to the primitive period of religion, in 
which bodily contortion and hysterical excitement 
arc assumed to be manifestations of the godly 
spirit. Here is a description of a scene in which 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife i t 

she played a part at a religious gathering, which 
will be found, I think, to throw some light on the 
subsequent development of her son's character. It 
is a description of a camp-meeting at Elizabeth's 
Town, Kentucky, in 1806, by an eye-witness — 

The Hanks girls were great at camp-meetings. 1 re- 
member one in 1806. I will give you a scene, and if you 
will then read the books written on the subject you will find 
some apology for the superstition which was said to be in 
Abe Lincoln's character. It was at a camp-meeting, as 
before said, when a general shout was about to commence. 
Preparations were being made, and a young lady invited me 
to stand on the bench at her side where we could see all over 
the altar. To the right, a strong, athletic young man, about 
twenty-five years of age, was put in trim for the occasion, 
which was done by divesting him of all his apparel except 
his shirt and pants. On the left a young lady was being put 
in trim in much the same manner, so that her clothes would 
not be in the way, and so that when her combs flew out her 
hair would go into graceful braids. She too was young, not 
more than twenty perhaps. The performance commenced 
about the same time by the young man on the right and the 
young lady on the left. Slowly and gracefully they worked 
their way towards the centre, singing, shouting, kissing, 
generally their own sex, until at last nearer and nearer they 
came. When the centre of the altar was reached, the two 
closed their arms round each other, the man singing and 
shouting at the top of his voice— 

I have my Jesus in my arms, 

Sweet as honey, strong as bacon ham. 

Just at this moment the young lady holding on my arm 
whispered, "They are to be married next week; her name 
is Hanks." There are some who don't believe this is true 
religion inspired by the Holy Spirit ; but any man who 
cannot believe it had better keep it to himself. The Hankses 
were the finest singers and shouters in our country. 

12 Some Old Love Stories 

There is some doubt as to whether the particular 
young member of the Hanks family here described 
was the actual mother of the President; but 
whether she was or not, the picture gives a very 
graphic and clear idea of the kind of surroundings 
under which Lincoln's parent was brought up. 


Thomas Lincoln had bought two farms in 
Kentucky on easy terms of payment, but when the 
time came he had no money to meet the obligation, 
and he emigrated to Indiana in quest of more hos- 
pitable surroundings. Mr. Herndon, the biographer 
of Lincoln with whom I am dealing, with commend- 
able good sense dismisses altogether the absurd 
legend that Thomas Lincoln left Kentucky because 
he could not bear the sight of slavery. Good, easy 
man, he had something else to think of! It throws 
a curious light on the history of the early life of 
some of the most populous States of America 
to-day to read of the kind of preparations which 
old Thomas Lincoln had to make for beginning 
his hegira — 

He began preparations for removal in the fall of 1S16 by 
building for his use a flat boat. Loading it with his tools 
and personal effects, including in the invoice, as we are told, 
four hundred gallons of whisky, he launched his " crazy 
craft " on a tributary of Salt Creek, known as the Rolling 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 13 

Fork. Along with the current he floated down to Ohio 
river, but his rudely-made vessel, either from the want of 
experience in its navigator, or because of its ill-adaptation to 
withstand the force and caprices of the currents in the great 
river, capsized one day, and boat and cargo went to the 
bottom. The luckless boatman set to work, however, and 
by dint of great patience and labour succeeded in recovering 
the tools and the bulk of the whisky. Righting his boat, he 
continued down the river, landing at a point called Thomp- 
son's Ferry, in Perry County, on the Indiana side. 

Then our settler travelled back to his Kentucky 
home, walking every bit of the way, and finally 
brought his family and his belongings in a wagon 
drawn by two horses to their new home. 


A DESCRIPTION of the home in which young 
Lincoln was brought up, will give some idea of the 
nature of the struggles through which he had to 
pass — 

The cabin was of hewed logs, and was eighteen feet 
square. It was high enough to admit of a loft, where Abe 
slept, and to which he ascended each night by means of 
pegs driven in the wall. The rude furniture was in keeping 
with the surroundings. Three-legged stools answered for 
chairs. The bedstead, made of poles fastened in the cracks 
of the logs on one side, and supported by a crotched stick 
driven in the ground floor on the other, was covered with 
skins, leaves, and old clothes. A table of the same finish as 
the stools, a few pewter dishes, a Dutch oven, and a skillet 
completed the household outfit. 

14 Some Old Love Stories 

When Abe was ten years of age he lost his 
mother. She died of a curious plague that infected 
these small Western settlements known as the 
" milk-sick." There was no doctor within thirty- 
five miles, no church or graveyard. She was buried 
without ceremony by her husband's hands in the 
forest. Thus lived and thus died the mother of a 
President of the United States. It is no wonder 
that Lowell should speak enthusiastically of him 
as " the first American " who had occupied the 
presidential chair. In the hardship and wildness 
of his surroundings, in the toil of the pioneer that 
has opened up new country to the world, in the 
poverty, squalor, and lowly toil of early days, 
Lincoln certainly had an experience which America 
alone could supply. 


WllEN Thomas Lincoln married, he could not 
even read or write ; Nancy Hanks was a little better 
educated, and, it is said, succeeded in teaching 
her husband how to write his name and spell 
laboriously his way through the JBible. Shortly 
after the death of Nancy Hanks, Thomas Lincoln 
married for the second time. Lincoln's step- 
mother was an extremely amiable and good 
woman ; she survived her illustrious step-son, and 
to the last the relations between the two were 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 15 

affectionate. It was to her influence that Lincoln 
owed his chance of getting even the little education 
he had. His father saw little advantage in book- 
learning, and was much more anxious that Abe 
should learn his own trade of carpenter. But Abe 
showed no taste for the trade, preferring to go into 
the woods rail-splitting, and was a curious example, 
even in his earliest days, of that mixture of idle- 
ness and industry which is so common among 
intellectual youths. He had grown rapidly, and 
was upwards of six feet high before he was eighteen. 
The neighbours of a certain type did not augur 
very hopefully for his future. Here is the testimony 
of a farmer of the district, John Romine by name — 

He worked for me . . . but was always reading and 
thinking ; I used to get mad at him for it. I say he was 
awful lazy. He would laugh and talk, crack his jokes, and 
tell stories all the time ; didn't love work half as much as 
his pay. He said to me one day that his father taught him 
to work, but he never could teach him to love it. 

But there are methods of work unknown to the 
John Romines of the world — work of reading and 
thought, and Lincoln seems to have been particu- 
larly industrious in this direction. Whenever he 
was able, he attended school ; he read on Sundays 
and wrote on Sundays, and usually he brought his 
books with him to the woods. It was no uncommon 
occurrence for him to drop the axe, and, retiring 
to the shade of some tree, bury himself in the 
dreamland of the Bible or /Esop's Fables. 

t6 Some Old Love Stories 

The family were so poor that they could not 
afford candle-light in the evenings, and young Abe 
had to study by the open fireplace, " lying on 
his stomach." With a piece of charcoal he would 
"cipher on a broad wooden shovel." When the 
latter was covered over on both sides, he " would 
take his father's drawing-knife or plane and shave 
it off, and make it ready for a fresh supply of 
inscriptions the next day." 

" He often moved about the cabin with a piece 
of chalk, writing and ciphering on boards and the 
flat sides of hewn logs. When every bare wooden 
surface had been filled with his letters and ciphers, 
he would erase them and begin anew." 


ONE feature, finally, of his character at this 
period. He had become well known for his strength, 
and for a while he seems to have been much more 
proud of his physical than of his mental gifts. He 
accomplished feats which sometimes defied the 
strength of three men. Occasionally, in these wild 
Western times, it was necessary to defend one's 
prowess, and Lincoln figures in a curious and weird 
scene, which is in contrast with the chief magis- 
trate whom the world knows. A fight took place 
between one of Abe's step-brothers and another 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 17 

youth of the district. When Abe saw that his 
relative was worsted — 

Abe burst through, caught Grigsby, and threw him off 
some feet away. There he stood, proud as Lucifer, and swing- 
ing a bottle of liquor over his head, swore that he was " the big 
buck of the lick." " If any one doubts it," he shouted, " he has 
only to come on and wet his horns." A general engagement 
followed this challenge. 


Gentryville was the name of the settlement 
in Indiana in which Abe Lincoln spent these 
early days. It is well to reproduce one or two 
extracts from Mr. Herndon's book to give an idea 
of the exact kind of surroundings in which the 
youth of this remarkable man was spent. Thus 
the life is described by an old lady whom the 
indefatigable writer of this book interviewed — 

We thought nothing of going eight or ten miles to 
church. The ladies did not stop for want of shawl, cloak, or 
riding-dress in winter-time, but would put on their husbands' 
old overcoats and wrap up their little ones and take one or 
two of them on their breasts. Their husbands would walk, 
and thus they would go to church, frequently remaining till 
the second day before they returned home. 

And here is an even more delightful collection 
of details as to this period and this settlement — 

The old men starting from the fields and out of the 
woods would carry their guns on their shoulders and go also. 
They dressed in deerskin pants, moccasins, and coarse hunt 
shirts. The latter is usually fastened with a rope or leathern 


1 8 Some Old Love Stories 

strap. Arriving at the house where services were to be held, 
they would recite to each other thrilling stories of their 
hunting exploits, and smoke their pipes with the old ladies. 
They were treated and treated each other with the utmost 
kindness. A bottle of liquor, a pitcher of water, sugar, and 
glasses were set out, now and then a pie or cakes. Thus 
they regaled themselves till the preacher found himself in a 
condition to begin. The latter, having also partaken freely 
of the refreshments provided, would take his stand, draw off 
his coat, open his shirt-collar, read his text, and preach and 
pound till the sweat, produced alike by his exertions and the 
exhilarating effects of the toddy, rolled from his face in great 
drops. Shaking hands and singing ended the service. 

Similarly they were ready to go long distances 
for their amusements. They often danced through 
the night to the sound of a cracked fiddle, drinking 
whisky pretty freely. 


It should be added to this description that the 
carousals were very much to the taste of all Abe 
Lincoln's relatives and associates. The Hanks 
family were especially prolific in the production of 
ne'er-do-wells and topers. A favourite stanza of 
one of the Hanks tribe is retained to immortality ; 
it will give some idea both of him and of the 
young Lincoln's surroundings. This is the distich — 

Hail Columbia, happy land, 

If you ain't drunk I will be damned ! 

It throws some light also on Lincoln's disposition 
and training in these early years that he himself 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 19 

was also an inveterate poetaster. The pious care 
of his friend and biographer has collected some 
specimens of Lincoln's young muse. I may dismiss 
them by saying that they are shocking doggerel — 
shocking in style, tone, in everything. They are 
mainly important as marking the long road which 
poor Lincoln had to travel between his early self 
and the genius he afterwards became. 

There is another feature in this old life of his 
which deserves to be recorded. It accounts for 
some of the elements in his subsequent character. 
The primitive religion of the people among whom 
he grew up was strongly tinged with superstition. 

They believed in the baneful influence of witches, pinned 
their faith to the curative power of wizards in dealing with 
sick animals, and shot the witch with a silver ball to break 
the spell she was supposed to have for human beings. They 
followed with religious minuteness the directions of the 
water wizard with his magic diving-rod, thought the fowl 
doctor wrought miraculous cures with strange sounds and 
signals to some mysterious agency. The flight of a bird 
near a window, the breath of a horse on a child's head, the 
crossing by a dog on a hunter's path, all betokened evil luck 
in store for some one. The moon exercised a greater 
influence on the actions of the people than the growth of 
vegetation and the sun and planetary system combined. 
Fences and rails could only be cut in the light of the moon, 
the potatoes were planted in the dark moon, trees and plants 
which bore fruit above ground could only be planted when 
the moon shone full ; soup could only be made in the light of 
the moon, and it must only be stirred in one way by one 

Though Lincoln's mind was essentially critical, 
and though triumphant analysis finally brought 

20 Some Old Love Stories 

him to entirely unorthodox views about accepted 
religious faiths, he, by a common but not infrequent 
contradiction, remained superstitious to the very 
end of his days. He was, says his biographer, 
" a fatalist to the day of his death." He believed 
in the significance of dreams and visions. And 
thus it was that he remained, in some of his 
weaknesses as well as in his elements of strength, a 
curiously typical American of the toiling classes 
to the end of his days. It was this thorough 
sympathy of his with every side of the plebeian 
life of his nation that helped to account for much 
of his popularity. 


AND now came another flitting. Gentryville in 
Indiana, like the old home in Kentucky, was 
visited by the " milk-sick " ; and besides, the 
settlers had made no way. Especially was change 
acceptable to old Thomas Lincoln — shiftless, 
nomadic, sanguine as ever. He had moved four 
times since his marriage, and, in point of worldly 
goods, was no better off than when he started in 
life. In March 1830, the whole tribe — thirteen in 
all — packed their few goods and chattels into a 
rude wagon. Over swollen streams, over muddy 
roads, the heavy wagon, groaning, creaking, some- 
times positively refusing to go forward at all, made 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 2 1 

its way. They spent a fortnight on the road to 
their new home in the State of Illinois. Few could 
then have anticipated that the tall and ungainly 
boy — who had just turned twenty-one years of age 
— dressed " in buck-skin breeches and coon-skin 
cap," was entering the State which, by and by, 
would help to raise him to the chief magistracy of 
one of the greatest of nations. 

When the fortnight's travel was over, the settlers 
selected a spot on a bluff overlooking the Sangamon 
River, and resolutely set to work to clear the ground. 
One felled the trees, and one hewed the timber for 
the cabin ; another cleared the ground of the 
accumulated growth of underbush. Young Abe 
was especially industrious. With oxen and plough, 
he and one of the Hanks family broke up fifteen 
acres of sod, and " Abe and myself," says John 
Hanks, "split rails enough to fence the place in." 
The delight of this passage is its splendid uncon- 
sciousness. For it was the split rails, thus tersely 
and dryly described, which afterwards played a 
prominent part in the history of a great nation and 
an awful struggle. Many years afterwards these 
same rails were brought into a great Presidential 
convention. The sight of this homely work of 
young Abe Lincoln's hands helped to produce the 
enthusiasm — the sense of his thorough Americanism, 
— the sense of all his community of experience with 
the lives, the thoughts, and the destinies of the 
masses of the people, — which made him the over- 

22 vSome Old Love Stories 

whelmingly popular idol, and helped to carry him 
to the highest seat of power the votes of men are 
capable of bestowing. 


ONE of the school-masters of my boyhood had a 
very sensible little son of an extremely practical 
turn of mind. When the time came for his study 
of Plato he expressed considerable dissent from the 
generally-accepted view of the central figure in 
Plato's series of dramas. He could not see the 
fun of Socrates going about the market and spend- 
ing all his time in mere talk with the neighbours. 
He was not an American boy, and the American 
vocabulary had not then made its successful inroads 
upon our own tongue, else he would have ex- 
pressed his meaning and his scorn by speaking 
of the great Athenian philosopher as a " loafer." 
Well, Abe Lincoln was essentially like Socrates in 
some respects, including — as will by and by be 
seen — some of his domestic experiences. His chief 
pastime was to go about among the neighbours, 
and to discuss with them all the great subjects of 
human thought. He was a little like Socrates, too, 
in his love for allegory and parable. He was, in 
short, emphatically a " loafer." 

The accepted theory, of course, is that a man 
born to manual labour is a guilty thing if he should 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 23 

ever seek to rise above it, and show a greater in- 
clination for intellectual than mere physical labour : 
and we have seen already how profoundly poor 
young Abe Lincoln had disgusted one of his early 
employers because he showed so much greater 
inclination for telling a good story than for split- 
ting rails. But it is absurd to blame any man for 
preferring the kind of work for which Nature has 
intended him ; and Nature never spoke in plainer 
terms than in the case of Abraham Lincoln. He 
was a born politician. Nobody knew this better 
than Lincoln himself. He had moments of self- 
distrust, he was nearly always despondent ; but he 
never lacked at bottom the consciousness of his 
great powers. But like a good many other men of 
political genius, he was a very poor hand at the 
management of his own small life. From old 
Thomas Lincoln there came the shiftlessness — the 
unsound finance — the nomadic blood ; just as from 
Nancy Hanks came the fervour, the rhetoric, 
the mysticism, and the overflowing gloom of his 

For years, then, our poor Lincoln is what he 
himself called " floating driftwood." He is torn by 
the desire for learning, for distinction, for command ; 
but in the meantime the day's meal has to be 
earned, and for many a year he has no better 
weapon for doing so than his long muscular arms 
and his powerful frame. For instance, it is re- 
corded of him that he made 3000 rails for Major 

24 Some Old Love Stories 

Warwick, walking daily three miles to his work. 
This was all in the immediate vicinity of his father's 
home. His first visit to the big world outside his 
new home in Illinois was on a trip down the Mis- 
sissippi to New Orleans. The trip was undertaken 
under the auspices of a poor, flighty, good-natured, 
foredoomed dreamer named Offut — one of the men 
who sometimes reach to millions in a country of 
rapidly-acquired fortunes ; who, more frequently, fly 
high and then sink into the abyss and are lost. 
Offut had a tremendous scheme for taking a boat- 
ful of goods to New Orleans ; but when Abe 
Lincoln and Johnston, his step-brother, and Hanks, 
another relative, arrived at Springfield, they found 
Offut full of merriment and whisky, but without 
any boat. The new-comers had nothing for it but 
to build the boat. First they constructed a shanty 
as the temporary dwelling, Lincoln acting as cook. 
In four weeks they had built the boat, and the 
journey began. 

The remuneration of the Lincoln party was to be 
a shilling a day, and three pounds at the end of the 
journey. That journey must have been full of 
dangers and discomforts — not, probably, that Abe 
minded the danger, for he was absolutely devoid 
of physical fear, — or that he was conscious of the 
discomforts in the glory of the great opening world. 
It was during this journey that an event took place 
which coloured his own thoughts, and through that, 
has helped to transform the world. He saw slavery 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 25 

for the first time in its naked and brutal manifest- 
ations, for New Orleans was the metropolis of the 
slave trade. Above all things he saw a slave 
auction, with a poor young woman subjected to 
mauling after the fashion of an animal for sale ; 
and there and then he is said to have acquired that 
hatred of the institution which coloured for ever 
afterwards his opinion and his policy. 

The whole thing was so revolting that Lincoln moved away 
from the scene in a deep feeling of " incomparable hate. : ' 
Bidding his companions follow him he said, "By God, boys, 
let's get away from this. If ever I get a chance to hit that 
thing " — meaning slavery—" I'll hit it hard." This incident 
was furnished me in 1865 by John Hanks. I have also heard 
Mr. Lincoln refer to it himself. 

It will illustrate the poverty of our poor Abe at 
this period of his life that he and his friends had to 
make their way home on foot from St Louis to 
their cabins in Illinois. 


Abe has not yet ceased to regard his physical 
strength and courage as his chief distinction. He 
has a contest with Daniel Needham, a famous 
wrestler, and soon overcomes him. It is about 
this time, too, that Offut, above-mentioned, who 
was one of Abe Lincoln's earliest admirers, boasts 
that his protige "could outrun, whip, or throw clown 

26 Some Old Love Stories 

any man in Sangamon county." This was a boast 
which, when made in those times and in that par- 
ticular district, was certain to be challenged. There 
was a rowdy and violent little colony in Clary's 
Grove, near New Salem, the Illinois village in 
which Offut, after his return from the trip to New 
Orleans, had resolved to seek fortune ; and every- 
body feared the daring, the strength, and the 
violence of the colony. And when Offut boasted 
that Abe Lincoln could beat any one in Clary's 
Grove, and was willing to back his opinion by a 
bet of ten dollars, an encounter became certain. 
Jack Armstrong was chosen as the champion of 
Clary's Grove. Lincoln 

was over six feet four inches high, and weighed, as his friend 
and confidant, William Greene, tells us with impressive pre- 
cision, " two hundred and fourteen pounds." The contest 
was to be a friendly one and fairly conducted. All New 
Salem adjourned to the scene of the wrestle. Money, 
whisky, knives, and all manner of property were staked on 
the result. It is unnecessary to go into the details of the 
encounter. Every one knows how it ended ; how at last the 
tall and angular rail-splitter, enraged at the suspicion of foul 
tactics, and profiting by his height and the length of his 
arms, fairly lifted the great bully by the throat and shook him 
like a rat. Now by this act he established himself solidly 
in the esteem of New Salem, and secured the respectful 
admiration and friendship of the very man whom he so 
thoroughly vanquished. 

In New Salem, for the first time, we find Lincoln 
employed on work which was not manual. He 
was appointed clerk to an election board, and 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 27 

there is a picture of him on the election day which 
has a singular bearing on his future fortunes. For 
the very thing Abe did — " when votes were coming 
in slowly" — was "to entertain the crowd at the 
polls with story- telling." 

My cousin, J. R. Herndon, was present, and enjoyed this 
feature of the election with the keenest relish. He never 
forgot some of Lincoln's yarns, and was fond of repeating 
them in after years. The recital of a few stories by Lincoln 
easily established him in the good graces of all New Salem. 


Meantime the love of books was still upon 
him. There is always something pathetic in the 
painful efforts of the poor to acquire education ; 
and Lincoln's story in this respect is not less, but 
rather more pathetic than the generality. What 
brought his ignorance more home to him was the 
intense sense he had of his powers of speech, if 
only he got the chance. There are curious stories 
of this oratorical sap bursting forth in fruit in 
unexpected ways — ways impossible in any country 
except one in which elections are always taking 
place, and people are always more or less " on the 
stump." Before he left Gentryville, his old Indiana 
home, he was one of the frequenters of the local 
" store," and there became a favourite story-teller. 

His jokes and stories were so odd, original, and witty, all 
the people in the town would gather round him. He would 

28 Some Old Love Stories 

keep them till midnight. Abe was a good talker a good 
reader, and a kind of newsboy. 

It was also characteristic of his tastes that he 
used to walk fifteen miles to the local court-house 
to hear the trials. There is also a story of his 
hearing a man making a speech, and then and 
there getting up and replying to such effect that 
the man acknowledged himself beaten, and was 
foreseeing and generous enough to encourage 
his boy antagonist " to persevere." And even 
before this, while he was still a labourer in the 

he could not resist the temptation to mount the nearest 
stump and practise on his fellow-labourers. The latter 
would flock round him, and active operations would cease 
when he began. A cluster of tall and stately trees often 
made him a most dignified and appreciative audience during 
the delivery of those maiden forensic efforts. 

The boy used to attend with his father election 
meetings, horse-races, and all the other concourses 
of the primitive inhabitants, and in all of them 
was a marked character, equally formidable in an 
encounter of muscles or of wits. 

But he lacked knowledge, and, on the advice of 
a New Salem friend, 

he hunted up one Vanen, who was the reputed owner of 
Kirkham's Grammar, and after a walk of several miles 
returned to the store with the coveted volume under his arm. 
With zealous perseverance he at once applied himself to the 
book. Sometimes he would stretch out at full length on the 
counter, his head propped upon a stack of calico prints, 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 29 

studying it ; or he would steal away to the shade of some 
inviting tree and there spend hours at a time in a determined 
effort to fix in his mind the arbitrary rule. 

Lincoln had a brief and not significant career as 
captain of a company in the Black Hawk war. To 
that episode — to which he afterwards used to allude 
rather scornfully— there is no necessity to further 
refer. It was after his return from the Black Hawk 
expedition that Lincoln made his first attempt to 
enter political life. He stood as a candidate for 
the State Legislature. Here is a delightful de- 
scription of the appearance of the candidate and 
his style of address at the period — 

He wore a mixed jean coat, claw-hammer style, short in 
the sleeves and bobtail — in fact it was so short in the tail he 
could not sit on it — flax and tow linen pantaloons, and a 
straw hat. I think he wore a vest, but do not remember 
how it looked. He wore pot-metal boots. His maiden 
effort on the stump was a speech on the occasion of a public 
sale at Pappville, a village eleven miles off Springfield. 
After the sale was over and speech-making had begun, a 
fight — a "general fight," as one of the bystanders relates — 
ensued, and Lincoln, noticing one of his friends about to 
succumb to the energetic attack of an infuriated ruffian, 
interposed to prevent it. He did so most effectually. Hastily 
descending from the rude platform, he edged his way through 
the crowd, and seizing the bully by the neck and seat of his 
trousers, threw him by means of his strength and long arms, 
as one witness stoutly insists, " twelve feet away." Return- 
ing to the stand, and throwing aside his hat, he inaugurated 
his campaign with the following brief but juicy declaration : 
"Fellow Citizens — I presume you all know who I am. I am 
humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by many 
friends to become a candidate for the Legislature. My 
politics are short and sweet, like the old woman's dance. I 

3<3 Some Old Love Stories 

am in favour of a national bank. I am in favour of the 
internal improvement system and a high protective tariff. 
These are my sentiments and political principles. If elected 
I shall be thankful ; if not, it will be all the same." 

There is also a description of his method of 
canvassing from a contemporary eye-witness which 
throws a light on his methods — a light that, in the 
opinion of any candid and manly critic, it can well 
bear, though I have no doubt Philistine prudery 
will be as shocked as the naif chronicler. Thus 
speaks Mr. A. T. Ellis, the chronicler referred to — 

1 accompanied him on one of his electioneering trips to 
Island Grove, and he made a speech which pleased his party 
friends very well indeed, though some of the Jackson men 
tried to make sport of it. He told several anecdotes, and 
applied them, as I thought, very well. He also told the boys 
several stories which drew them after him. I remember 
them, but modesty and my veneration for his memory forbid 
me to relate them. 

Thus the inimitable Ellis on one of Abe Lin- 
coln's special peculiarities — a peculiarity which 
now and then brought down on his head the 
embarrassing curses or the burdensome prayers of 
the clergy when he was fighting for the Union. 
The commentary of the judicious Herndon is at 
once the explanation and the justification of poor 
Abe's Rabelaisian tendencies — 

His story-telling propensity and the striking fitness of his 
yarns — many of them being of the bar-room order — in illus- 
trating public questions, as we shall see further along in 
these chapters, was really one of the secrets of his popularity 
and strength. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 


But Lincoln, in spite of his stories " of the bar- 
room order," failed to get elected ; and he had to 
return from the fairyland of the stump and of 
Kirkham's English Grammar to the ever-present 
and ever-sordid task of earning his daily dinner. 

It occurred to him that keeping a store would be 
the ideal life for him, in preparation for something 
better. The store plays even still a very important 
part in the small Western town. The friendly and 
neighbourly citizens of a Republic, cut off from 
communication with the world, — in those days, too, 
with few newspapers, — and all filled with that love 
of conversation which is a fundamental American 
characteristic — would have been surprised if they 
had been told that a store had not to fulfil some 
other and higher function than that of supplying 
their whisky and their groceries. The store was, 
and indeed in some parts of America still is, the 
newsroom, the club, the discussion forum, even the 
school for scandal. Now Lincoln, as I have said, 
was an inveterate "loafer," a tireless talker, a 
raconteur of inexhaustible resource, of splendid and 
wide powers, full of wit, of a retentive memory. 
Above all, he had that touch of mimetic power 
without which the raconteur is never really com- 

32 Some Old Love Stones 

pletc. The store, with its long pauses between 
work, — pauses to be employed in reading the 
Grammar and Blackstone's Commentaries, — with 
its friendly neighbours dropping in during the even- 
ings, with its everlasting discussions, with its ever- 
attentive and delighted audience, — the store was the 
place above all others for Abe Lincoln on his painful 
passage along the road from illiteracy to learning 
and the Bar. You must have travelled in the 
United States, and through a good part of it too, 
to be able to completely figure to your mind the 
kind of life which Lincoln led in such a position, 
and to understand the character and the type 
which such a life produced. The love of the story 
is universal among Americans. Business men in 
London complain to me that Americans are so 
unbusinesslike, and the two chief counts in this 
paradoxical and unexpected indictment are that 
Americans remain so long on a visit to their places 
of business, seem oblivious of the passage of time, 
and, above all things, are so fond of telling lengthy 
anecdotes. But the truth is, an American illus- 
trates everything by a story. The story figures 
not merely in serious political argument, in plat- 
form oratory — the story is welcome on the platform 
even in England — but also in private conversation. 
I have heard that at some of the greatest crises in 
the Civil War, the Cabinet was enlightened in its 
discussion of some tremendous resolve by a story ; 
and I have seen Americans sit down for hours and 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 23 

indulge in a series of soliloquies — each man telling 
his story, everybody else listening with perfect 
patience and genuine delight. 


This peculiarity is not only a national charac- 
teristic, but the growth of the circumstances of the 
country. The desolation, the isolation, the absolute 
cutting off from the world — above all things, the 
absence of everything joyous in life — which belong 
to a young settlement in the United States, — must 
be seen to be realized. At the same time all 
American citizens have been accustomed from 
their earliest days to take an active part and 
interest in all the civic duties of life. Not only 
have they cast their vote for a ruler mightier in 
many respects than any on earth, but everybody 
about them who is in a position of authority is the 
creation and the creature of their votes — the judge 
on the Bench, the police magistrate, the chief of 
the fire brigade, even to some extent the police- 
man who hales the sot to gaol, and the postman 
who brings the morning's mail. And this begets 
the constant spirit of discussion. Americans 
always strike me in consequence as the most 
dialectical race in the whole world, resembling in 
this, as in some other respects, a Continental rather 
than an Anglo-Saxon type of character. 

34 Some Old Love Stories 

Lincoln as a storekeeper proved a disastrous 
failure, mainly owing to a partner who was himself 
the best customer of the store, and who wound up 
with bankruptcy and delirium tremens. Our poor 
Lincoln had the same faults as a salesman which 
old John Romine found in him as a field hand. 
" He was too prone," says his biographer, " to lead 
off with a discussion of politics or morality, leaving 
some one else to finish the trade which he had 
undertaken." And his other defect was his extra- 
ordinary shyness towards women, — often a fateful 
and portentous fact in the young, the more so as 
it masks an excess of sensibility under an appear- 
ance of indifference, and is the proof of that very 
subjection to women which it often seems to 
angrily decry. But of that side of Lincoln's 
character I will not speak at this particular 

Lincoln was now in sore stress. He had to 
board at a miserable little public-house, and here, 
as one of his contemporaries put it, "he had a 
running bill to pay, and nothing to pay it with." 
He had still to trust to his stalwart arms for bread, 
and had the dreariest of all resources — odd jobs. 
One day he would split rails ; the next he would 
take a turn at helping in the store. He was lucky 
enough to obtain some work as an assistant- 
surveyor to the district, getting the post from a 
strong political opponent with a manful declaration 
of his own political principles which did him 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 35 

honour. Meantime, he joined in all the sports of 
the wild time — it is necessary to tell this, so that 
one may have a really true idea of what Lincoln 
was like — went to horse-races and to cock-fight- 
ing; gave public exhibitions of his extraordinary 
strength, anticipating the so-called "strong men" 
of our own day ; and of course talked incessantly 
and incessantly told stories, questionable and 


And in the midst of it all he kept on bravely at 
his studies ; dropping under a tree, when working 
in the field, to read Blackstone, returning to a book 
in the store after he had served a customer, reading 
by night at the friendly light of some acquaintance's 
hearth, or kindling the shavings and remnants of 
wood in a cooper's shop, and lying by its light till 
far into the night. And all through the fellow 
manages to have friends who pull him through 
every misfortune ; and he has friends because he 
deserves them. Here is a story of this period of 
Lincoln's life which throws a pleasant light upon 
his character — 

He had an unfailing disposition to succour the weak and 
unfortunate, and was always in his sympathy struggling with 
the under dog in the fight. He was once overtaken when 
about fourteen miles from Springfield by one Chandler, whom 
he knew slightly, and who already having driven twenty 


6 Some Old Love Stories 

miles was hastening to reach the land office before a certain 
other man who had gone by a different road. Chandler 
explained to Lincoln that he was poor and wanted to enter 
a small tract of land which adjoined his, and that another 
man of considerable wealth had also determined to have it, 
and had mounted his horse and started for Springfield. 
" Meanwhile my neighbours," continued Chandler, " collected 
and advanced me the necessary hundred dollars, and now if I 
can reach the land office first I can secure the land." Lincoln 
noticed that Chandler's horse was too much fatigued to stand 
fourteen miles more of a forced march, and he therefore 
dismounted from his own and turned him over to Chandler, 
saying, " Here's my horse — he is fresh and full of grit ; there's 
no time to be lost ! Mount him and put him through ; when 
you reach Springfield put him up at Herndon's tavern, and 
I'll call and get him." Thus encouraged Chandler moved 
on, leaving Lincoln to follow on the jaded animal. He 
reached Springfield over an hour in advance of his rival, and 
thus secured the coveted tract of land. By nightfall Lincoln 
rode leisurely into town, and was met by the now radiant 
Chandler, jubilant over his success. 

Finally, as to this epoch of his life. He stood 
for the State Legislature a second time, and was 
elected. He was so poor that he had to borrow 
two hundred dollars to get a suit of clothes. He 
paid the money back — as he paid all his debts — 
honourably and punctually. He was a bad financier, 
but he was not a dishonest one. 


HERE I leave Lincoln as a politician to turn to 
the other side of his nature — to describe Lincoln 
the man, and especially in his relations to women. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife $J 

I have alluded to the fact that Lincoln was 
extremely shy with women. There is a picture of 
him when he was an assistant in keeping a store, 
which will serve to paint him at the same time and 
explain this peculiarity — 

He always disliked to wait on the ladies, preferring to 
wait, he said, on the men and the boys. I also remember he 
used to sleep on the store-counter when they had too much 
company at the tavern. He wore flax and tow linen panta- 
loons — I thought about five inches too short in the legs — and 
frequently had but one suspender, no vest or coat. He wore 
a calico shirt such as he had in the Black Hawk war, coarse 
brogans, tan colour, blue yarn socks, and straw hat, old style, 
and without a band. 

The friend who gives this description of poor 
Lincoln is of the opinion that his painful self-con- 
sciousness in the presence of women was due to the 
awkwardness of his appearance and the poorness 
of his dress. However, Mr. Herndon, his bio- 
grapher, thinks that in addition there was down- 
right painful bashfulness. Again Ellis, the friend 
to whom we owe the description of Lincoln's 
appearance, says — 

On one occasion, while we boarded at the tavern, there 
came a family consisting of an old lady, her son, and three 
stylish daughters from the State of Virginia, who stopped 
there for two or three weeks, and during their stay I do not 
remember Mr. Lincoln's ever appearing at the same table 
with them. 

It was natural that a man of this kind should 
feel deeply; and the evidence on the whole is 

a t^zt i *x r~ ^ 

38 Some Old Love Stories 

conclusive that an early love adventure of Lincoln's 
coloured and darkened all his life. I have already- 
told how at one period he was obliged to lodge 
with an innkeeper named James Rutledge ; James 
Rutledge had amongst his nine children a daughter 
named Anne. There are many descriptions of 
Miss Rutledge, some of them not quite consistent 
with each other ; all coloured with that kindly love 
of extravagance which is one of the most curious 
characteristics of the Americans. 

She was amiable, and an exquisite beauty, and her intellect 
was quick, deep, and philosophic, as well as brilliant. She 
had a heart as gentle and as kind as an angel, and full of 
love and sympathy. Her sweet and angelic nature was noted 
by every one who met her. She was a woman worthy of 
Lincoln's love. Miss Rutledge had auburn hair, blue eyes, 
fair complexion. She was pretty, slightly slender, but in 
everything a good-hearted young woman. She was about 
five feet two inches high, and weighed in the neighbourhood 
of a hundred and twenty pounds. She was beloved by all 
who knew her. 

Mr. Herndon's account of Mr. Lincoln's love 
story with Miss Rutledge has been described as 
" highly coloured." Nicholay and Hay give only 
five lines to it in their voluminous record of the 
great President's life. But Mr. Herndon insists on 
the correctness of his narrative, and gives certain 
proofs of some of the main features. At all events, 
his story is that Lincoln fell deeply in love with 
the girl, and that he had a rival in the shop of a 
gentleman called McNamar, — I suspect an Irish- 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 39 

man, — and Lincoln did not press his suit until the 
temporary disappearance of McNamar from New 
Salem left the girl free. Lincoln at first was 
unsuccessful in his suit because the girl's heart was 
with McNamar, but as time went on and no 
promised communications arrived from the absent 
lover, she listened to Lincoln's suit. The girl must 
have been always delicate, but it is suggested that 
her health was undermined by the conflict between 
the old love and the new. At all events she was 
taken ill, and gradually wasted away. She asked 
for Lincoln several times as she was dying; he 
came and stood beside her, and had an interview 
with her alone, and in a few days afterwards, she 

Mr. Herndon quotes a letter from one of Miss 
Rutledge's brothers written many years afterwards, 
which contains this passage — 

When he first came to New Salem, and up to the'day of 
Anne's death, Mr. Lincoln was all life and animation. He 
seemed to see the bright side of every picture. 

Another of Mr. Herndon's correspondents de- 
clares that Lincoln once said to her, speaking of 
Miss Rutledge's grave — " My heart is buried there." 
Mr. Herndon gives proofs of further and even 
deeper signs of grief. 

This part of the story is so interesting, and 
throws so lurid a light upon Lincoln's character, 
that I quote Mr. Herndon's words in full — 

40 Some Old Love Stories 

When he returned from the visit to the grave of Miss 
Rutledge, he stopped at the house of a friend, who relates 
that his face showed signs of no little mental agony. " He 
was very much distressed," is the language of this friend, 
" and I was not surprised when it was rumoured subsequently 
that his reason was in danger." One of Miss Rutledge's 
brothers says— "The effect upon Mr. Lincoln's mind was 
terrible. He became plunged in despair, and many of his 
friends feared that reason would desert her throne. His 
extraordinary emotions were regarded as strong evidence of 
the existence of tenderest relations between himself and the 
deceased." The truth is, Mr. Lincoln was strangely wrought 
up over the sad ending of the affair. He had fits of great 
mental depression, and wandered up and down the river and 
into the woods woefully abstracted, at times in the deepest dis- 
tress. If, when we read what the many credible persons who 
knew him at the time tell us, we do not conclude that he was 
deranged, we must admit that he walked on the sharp and 
narrow line which divides sanity from insanity. To one 
friend he complained that the thought " that the snows and 
rains fall upon her grave filled him with indescribable grief." 
He was watched with special vigilance during damp, stormy 
days, under the belief that dark and gloomy weather might 
produce such a depression of spirits as to induce him to take 
his own life. His condition finally became so alarming that 
his friends consulted together and sent him to the house of 
a kind friend, Bowling Greene, who lived in a secluded spot 
hidden by the hills, a mile south of town. Here he remained 
some weeks under the care and ever-watchful eye of this 
noble friend, who gradually brought him back to reason, or, 
at least, a realization of his true condition. In the years that 
followed Mr. Lincoln never forgot the kindness of Greene 
through those weeks of suffering and peril. In 1842, when 
the latter died, and Lincoln was selected by the Masonic 
lodge to deliver the funeral oration, he broke down in the 
midst of his address. His voice was choked with deep 
emotion ; he stood a few moments while his lips quivered in 
the effort to form the words of fervent praise he sought to 
utter, and the tears ran down his yellow and shrivelled 
cheeks. Every voice was hushed at the spectacle. After 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 41 

repeated efforts he found it impossible to speak, and strode 
away, bitterly sobbing, to the widow's carriage, and was 
driven from the scene. 


By and by it will be seen that Lincoln had in 
him a morbid strain, and this will largely explain 
and justify Mr. Herndon's description of the effect 
the catastrophe had upon him. However, some 
time afterwards Lincoln is found paying his ad- 
dresses to another and different woman, Mary 
Owen, of Kentucky, who seems to have been the 
very opposite to the poor, fair-haired, delicate 
Anne Rutledge. She is described as tall and 
portly, with large blue eyes, jovial and social ; and 
certainly the picture of her in Mr. Herndon's volume, 
which is taken from a daguerreotype, gives you the 
impression of a thoroughly sonsey woman. Miss 
Owen liked Mr. Lincoln, but he was not able to 
touch her heart, and the way this is explained is 
one of the charms of the early letters. " I thought," 
she says, " Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little 
links which make up the chain of woman's happi- 
ness." It is only an American woman who would 
express herself in such highly figurative language. 
Undoubtedly Mr. Lincoln at this period was not 
a ladies' man. 

Before I go to the final and fatal chapter in 
Lincoln's love history, let me pause for a moment 

42 Some Old Love Stones 

to give a few more particulars of his financial 
position. He had been elected, and he had been 
soon afterwards re-elected to the State Legislature ; 
he belonged to the party of extravagance which 
demanded all kinds of expensive projects for the 
development of Illinois, and in time helped, with 
the rest of his political comrades, to bring about 
almost a bankrupt state of affairs ; whereupon Mr. 
Herndon remarks that Mr. Lincoln never had what 
some people call " money sense." 

By reason of his peculiar nature and construction he was 
endowed with none of the elements of a political economist. 
He was enthusiastic and theoretic to a certain degree ; could 
take hold of, and wrap himself up in, a great moral question ; 
but in dealing with the financial and commercial interests of 
a community or government, he was equally as inadequate 
as he was ineffectual in managing the economy of his own 
household. In this respect alone I always regarded Mr. 
Lincoln as a weak man. 

Lincoln, in the meantime, was anxious to add 
the profession of law to his precarious position, 
so he resolved to settle down in Springfield, with 
which as a legislator he had already become ac- 
quainted. Never, assuredly, did a lawyer start out 
with capital so small. When he took lodgings in 
Springfield " his personal effects consisted of a pair 
of saddle-bags, containing two or three law books 
and a few pieces of clothing." 

He had ridden into town on a borrowed horse (relates 
Mr. Speed), and engaged from the only cabinet-maker in 
the village a single bedstead. He came into my store, set 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 43 

his saddle-bags on the counter, and inquired what the furni- 
ture for a single bedstead would cost. I took slate and 
pencil, made a calculation, and found the sum for furniture 
complete would amount to seventeen dollars in all. Said 
he—" It is probably cheap enough, but I want to say, cheap 
as it is, I have not the money to pay. But if you will credit 
me until Christmas, and my experiment here as a lawyer is a 
success, I will pay you then. If I fail in that I will probably 
never pay you at all." The tone of his voice was so melan- 
choly that I felt for him. I looked up at him, and I thought 
then, as I think now, that I never saw so gloomy and melan- 
choly a face in my life. I said to him—" So small a debt 
seems to affect you so deeply, I think I can suggest a plan 
by which you will be able to attain your end without in- 
curring any debt. I have a very large room, and a very 
large double bed in it, which you are perfectly welcome to 
share with me if you choose." " Where is your room ? " he 
asked. " Up-stairs," said I, pointing to the stairs leading 
from the store to my room. Without saying a word he took 
his saddle-bags on his arm, went up-stairs, set them down on 
the floor, came back again, and with a face beaming with 
pleasure and smiles, exclaimed, "Well, Speed, I am moved." 


THOSE who know the United States well are 
conscious of the fact that in spite of the general 
equality of Republican institutions— an equality 
that is very real in some respects — there is no 
country where social distinctions are insisted on 
more tenaciously. It is, perhaps, the very sense 
that equality knocks at every door, and peremp- 
torily and in the name of the law demands en- 
trance, which makes the different social grades so 

44 Some Old Love Stories 

anxious to limit the number of admissions inside 
their circles and houses. This family pride is 
especially strong among the natives of the Southern 
States. A peer of Norman descent is infinitely less 
conscious among us of the pride of birth than a 
Southern man or a Southern woman who have the 
blood of three known generations in their veins ; 
and there is this allowance to be made for this 
feeling, that in a new, crude, rough country it has 
produced a type of courtly manners which one 
would associate with the best days of a fine old 
Continental court rather than with the pioneer 
settlements of a new continent. 

The only true democracy of the world is to be 
found in the dense multitudinousness and the 
rough and tumble of a great city like our imperial 
London. To us, then, our good Herndon will 
often be a joy and a delight by the solemn serious- 
ness with which he discusses the comparative social 
position of the early settlers of Springfield, Illinois, 
in what we would call their wooden shanties, and 
in what appears to us something like a wild en- 
campment on the scarcely-conquered ground of 
primeval prairie and expelled Indians. But we 
must look at these things from the point of view 
of those who lived among them, and not from our 
own ; and these differences, which to us appear so 
grotesque, had to Herndon and his townsmen, and, 
above all, to Lincoln and his future wife, a tragic- 
ally real meaning. Let us have our laugh, by all 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 45 

means, at the good Herndon, and at the picture 
of the curiously monotonous vanity and futility of 
human nature under so many different conditions ; 
but let us also be human and unprejudiced and 

Mary Todd was born in Kentucky, as was Lin- 
coln himself, and came of what in the United 
States would be regarded as aristocratic stock. 
Her ancestors had been generals in the Revolu- 
tion, in the first Indian war, and held high offices 
in the State Legislature, in banks, in the army. 
And now for one of our Herndon's inimitable and 
yet touching observations — 

To a young lady in whose veins coursed the blood that had 
come down from this long and distinguished ancestral line, 
who could even go back in the genealogical chart to the 
sixteenth century, Lincoln, the child of Nancy Hanks, whose 
descent was dimmed by the shadow of tradition, was finally 
united in marriage. 

In addition to the pride of birth, Mary Todd had 
the pride of what was considered in Springfield, 
Illinois, a very genteel education. On this point 
let us hear Mary Todd herself. There is some 
exquisite fun, and also some unconscious tragedy, 
between the lines — 

I was educated by Madame Mantelli, a lady who lived 
opposite Mr. Clay's, and who was an accomplished French 
scholar. Our conversation at school was carried on entirely 
in French — in fact, we were allowed to speak nothing else. 
I finished my education at Mrs. Ward's academy, an insti- 
tution to which many people from the North sent their 

46 Some Old Love Stories 

There is the whole story ! And what a pathetic 
one it is after all, in the very pitifulness and pet- 
tiness of its pretentiousness ! A knowledge of 
French, together with all the blood of all the Todds 
— this was the small social and literary capital 
which Mary Todd, and her neighbours too, thought 
more than adequate to give her aristocratic airs, 
and to justify her in looking down on a sad and 
poor man of genius, with his supreme though un- 
trained mind, and to regard marriage with him as 
a mesalliance of tragic intensity ! Again and again 
our simple and honest Herndon insists on this 
knowledge of French as one of the glories of Mary 
Todd. And what a revelation it all is, both of 
the pathetic ignorance and of the pathetic aspir- 
ations after higher things, of these poor men and 
women, who founded the first settlements of a great 
country ! 


Mary Todd had a married sister — Mrs. Edwards, 
— living in Springfield ; and thither she came when 
she was in her twenty-first year. It is significant 
of her character and subsequent career that the 
reason she had made the change was " to avoid 
living under the same roof with a stepmother." 
And now I shall let the good Herndon describe 
her in his own language. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 47 

She was of the average height, weighing when I first saw 
her about one hundred and thirty pounds. She was rather 
compactly built, and had a well-rounded face, rich dark- 
brown hair, and bluish-grey eyes. In her bearing she 
was proud, but handsome and vivacious. Her education 
had been in no wise defective ; she was a good conver- 
sationalist, using with equal fluency the French and English 
languages ; when she used a pen, its point was sure to 
be sharp, and she wrote with wit and ability. She not 
only had a quick intellect, but an intuitive judgment of 
men and their motives. Ordinarily she was affable and even 
charming in her manners ; but when offended or antagonized 
her agreeable qualities instantly disappeared beneath a wave 
of stinging satire or sarcastic bitterness, and her entire 
nature was submerged. In her figure and physical propor- 
tions, in education, bearing, temperament, history— in every- 
thing she was the exact reverse of Lincoln. 

Mary Todd "soon became one of the belles," 
saith our Herndon, " leading the young men of the 
town a merry dance." She " kept back all the 
unattractive elements in her unfortunate organiza- 
tion," and all the young aristocrats of Springfield 
could see was "her trenchant wit, affability, and 
candour," while the elders were impressed by " her 
culture and varied accomplishments." And then 
comes a delightful picture of our author and of 
Mary Todd. In the conversation of Americans, 
especially of those who have passed middle age and 
have been in political life, and where education has 
been picked up, there is a curious toploftiness 
that reminds one of a dead and gone generation of 
conversation and literature in our own country. 
In addition, the style has the curious flavour of 

4& Some Old Love Stories 

self-esteem, which is so essentially characteristic of 
self-made people in a land of social equality. Read 
all these things into the following extract from our 
Herndon, and you will gain much insight into 
American character and the American tongue — 

The first time I met her was at a dance at the residence of 
Colonel Robert Allen, a gentleman mentioned in the pre- 
ceding chapter. I engaged her for a waltz, and as we glided 
through it I fancied I never before had danced with a young 
lady who moved with such grace and ease. A few moments 
later, as we were promenading through the hall, I thought to 
compliment her graceful dancing by telling her that while I 
was conscious of my own awkward movements she seemed 
to glide through the waltz with the ease of a serpent. The 
strange comparison was as unfortunate as it was hideous. I 
saw it in an instant, but too late to recall it. She halted for 
a moment, drew back, and her eyes flashed as she retorted — 
"Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather severe 
irony, especially to a new-comer." 

" The strange comparison was as unfortunate as 
it was hideous. I saw it in an instant, but too 
late to recall it." Isn't this almost too delightful 
as a picture of our young, conceited, toploftical 
Springfield buck ? And is there anything in 
human document so eloquent of the poor conceit of 
our rustic belle as this — " She halted for a moment, 
drew back, and her eyes flashed as she retorted — 
' Mr. Herndon, comparison to a serpent is rather 
severe irony, especially to a new-comer ' " ? I haven't 
read anything for many days fuller of meaning, of 
sadness, of futility. 

A further point in Mary Todd's character has to 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 49 

be noticed. This is what one of her sisters says of 
her — 

Mary was quick, gay, and in the social world the most 
brilliant. She loved show and power, and was one of the 
most ambitious women I ever knew. She used to contend 
when a girl to her friends in Kentucky that she was destined 
to marry a President. I have heard her say that myself, and 
after mingling in society in Springfield, she repeated the 
seemingly absurd and idle boast. 

And Lincoln was no less ambitious than the 
woman who was to be his wife. In the idealization 
which his romantic life and tragic death have 
inevitably produced, a legend has grown up which 
represents him as thoroughly indifferent, if not 
averse, to public honours. He appraised them, in 
his own heart, at their proper value, no doubt ; and, 
as will be seen, he found them as much Dead Sea 
fruit as most of us find the prizes to which we 
sacrifice our lives. Moreover, he had a disposition 
so essentially melancholy, and a home so dark, that 
the real joy of life in any form could never be 
known to him. But to those who have studied the 
complexity of the human heart, and the generous 
hospitality of the human bosom, it does not appear 
in the least contradictory that Lincoln should have 
found success a disappointment and at the same 
time have had very keen desire for it, which is 
inevitable from the consciousness of great powers. 

At all events, Herndon has no doubt upon this 
point ; and properly disdaining to make his hero into 

50 Some Old Love Stories 

a spectral demi-god, says so. " The sober truth," he 
writes, " is that Lincoln was inordinately ambitious," 
and " how natural that he should seek marriage in 
an influential family to establish strong connections, 
and at the same time foster his political fortunes." 
And thus in a common ambition was laid, as 
Herndon thinks, the foundation of the dim resolve 
on both sides to get married. 

The courtship began inauspiciously. " Mary 
invariably led the conversation," says her sister. 
" Mr. Lincoln would sit at her side and listen. He 
scarcely said a word, but gazed on her as if 
irresistibly drawn towards her by some superior 
and unseen power." And then comes another of 
those delightful touches in which the book abounds : 
" He could not maintain himself in a continued 
conversation with a lady reared as Mary was ! " 
And then follows the significant sentence — " He 
was not educated and equipped mentally to make 
himself either interesting or attractive to the 

" The ladies " — the prefix of the article has a 
whole world of meaning ; it is a portrait, in a 
word, of provincialism, and especially of provincial 
pretentiousness. How often have I heard the 
same phrase in the small country town of my 
own boyhood ! 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 51 


And now there came a curious episode in the 
courtship, an episode which shows us an example 
of fact stranger than fiction. Throughout almost 
the whole of his career, Lincoln is dogged by one 
great name, the name of a rival in every respect 
worthy of him, in some respects more attractive ; 
in culture, bearing, and training far his superior. 
It was a great oratorical and political duel between 
Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, which was 
in some respects the immediate cause of Lincoln's 
elevation to the Presidency and of the great Civil 
War. I wish I had time to draw a picture of Douglas 
— that strange, picturesque, fascinating, and typical 
American figure ; but I must hurry on. Suffice to 
say that Douglas was for many years the chief force 
in the Democratic party, its orator, its organizer, 
its statesman, its idol. He, like Lincoln, was 
an Illinois man, and the great struggle between 
the rival parties in regard to the institution of 
slavery became in the end — and through a combin- 
ation of circumstances — a duel between the keen 
rival wits and the ardent personal ambitions of 
these two men. 

All this, however, is a long way off, at the period 
when Mary Todd is still a bright, caustic, self-con- 
ceited Springfield belle. She had declared that she 
would be the wife of a President, and undoubtedly at 

52 Some Old Love Stories 

that period, Douglas — accustomed to society, easy, 
self-confident, master of his tongue, and already 
distinguished — seemed a much more likely aspirant 
than poor, gawky, reticent, and humble Abe 
Lincoln. At all events, there was what Americans 
call a " desperate flirtation " between Mary Todd 
and Douglas, and many people think that so far 
as she ever loved anybody, Mary Todd loved 
Douglas. And all this time she was engaged to 
Lincoln ! 

The end of it was that she fell ill ; that Douglas 
was warned off by her relations, and that Lincoln, 
stung in his pride, resolved to break off the engage- 
ment. One night Lincoln enters the store of Speed, 
one of the warmest friends of this period of his 
life. He draws a letter from his pocket, and asks 
Speed to read it — 

The letter (relates Speed) was addressed to Mary 
Todd, and in it he made a plain statement of his feelings, 
telling her that he had thought the matter over calmly, and 
with great deliberation, and now felt that he did not love 
her sufficiently to warrant her in marrying him. This letter 
he desired me to deliver. Upon my declining to do so he 
threatened to entrust it to some other person's hand. I 
reminded him that the moment he placed the letter in Miss 
Todd's hand she would have the advantage over him. 
"Words are forgotten," I said, "misunderstood, unnoticed 
in a private conversation, but once you put your words in 
writing, they stand a living and eternal monument against 
you." Thereupon I threw the unfortunate letter into the fire. 
" Now," I continued, " if you have the courage of manhood, 
go and see Mary yourself ; tell her, if you do not love her, the 
facts, and that you will not marry her. Be careful not to say 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 53 

too much, and then leave at your earliest opportunity." Thus 
admonished he buttoned his coat, and with a rather deter- 
mined look started out to perform the serious duty for 
which I had just given him explicit directions. 

This Speed is a good fellow, one of those staunch 
and faithful friends whom Lincoln had a knack of 
making all through his life. He will not go to 
bed at his usually early hour this fateful night. 
" Under pretence of wanting to read," he " remained 
in the store below." "He was waiting" — good, 
kind creature — " for Lincoln's return." The sequel 
was what might have been expected, but let the 
story be told as Speed afterwards told it himself — 

Ten o'clock passed, and still the interview with Miss 
Todd had not ended. At length, shortly after eleven, he 
came stalking in. Speed was satisfied, from the length of 
Lincoln's stay, that his directions had not been followed. 
"Well, old fellow, did you do as I told you, and as you 
promised?" were Speed's first words. "Yes, I did," re- 
sponded Lincoln thoughtfully, " and when I told Mary I did 
not love her she burst into tears, and almost springing from 
her chair, and wringing her hands as if in agony, said some- 
thing about the deceiver being himself deceived." Then he 
stopped. " What else did you say ? " inquired Speed, drawing 
the facts from him. "To tell the truth, Speed, it was too 
much for me. I found the tears trickling down my own 
cheeks. I caught her in my arms and kissed her." " And 
that's how you broke the engagement," sneered Speed. " You 
not only acted the fool, but your conduct was tantamount to 
renewal of the engagement, and in decency you cannot back 
down now." " Well," drawled Lincoln, " if I am in again, so 
be it. It's done, and I shall abide by it." 

It was so all through his life — Lincoln could 
never withstand a woman in tears. He himself 

54 Some Old Love Stories 

used to say that he was glad he had not been born 
a woman, as he could refuse nothing to distress or 
a well-told tale. 


AND now there was no drawing back ; and the 
sinister wedding-day approached. I must let 
Herndon himself tell the curious and strange 
story : it is a picture of a wedding almost un- 
exampled in the intensity of its gloom, even in 
the many sad records of that great and fateful day 
of so many lives — 

The time fixed for the marriage was the first day in 
January 1841. Careful preparations for the happy occasion 
were made at the Edwards' mansion. The house underwent 
the customary renovation, the furniture was properly ar- 
ranged, the rooms neatly decorated, the supper prepared, 
and the guests invited. The latter assembled on the evening 
in question, and awaited in expectant pleasure the interesting 
ceremony of the marriage. The bride, bedecked in veil and 
silken gown, and nervously toying with the flowers in her 
hair, sat in the adjoining room. Nothing was lacking but 
the groom. For some strange reason he had been delayed. 
An hour passed, and the guests, as well as the bride, were 
becoming restless. But they were all doomed to disappoint- 
ment. Another hour passed, messengers were sent out over 
town, and each returning with the same report, it became 
apparent that Lincoln, the principal in this little drama, had 
purposely failed to appear ! The bride, in grief, disappeared 
to her room ; the wedding supper was left untouched ; the 
guests quietly and wonderingly withdrew, the lights in the 
Edwards' mansion were blown out, and darkness settled over 
all for the night. What the feelings of a lady as sensitive, 
passionate, and proud as Miss Todd were, we can only 
imagine — no one can ever describe them. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 55 

Meantime, what had become of Lincoln? He 
was not found till morning by Speed and his other 
friends, and then he was " restless, gloomy, miser- 
able, and desperate." 

His friends, Speed among the number, fearing a tragic 
termination, watched him closely in the rooms day and night. 
Knives and razors and every instrument that could be used 
for self-destruction were removed from his reach. 

Our good Speed took him to his home in Ken- 
tucky, and there he poured into the sympathetic 
ears of Speed's amiable old mother all the gloom 
of his spirits. It is significant to mark one of the 
causes of his depression — 

He was much depressed. At first he almost contemplated 
suicide. In the deepest of his depression he said one day 
he had done nothing to make any human being remember 
that he had lived, and that to connect his name with the 
events transpiring in his day and generation, and so impress 
himself upon them as to link his name with something that 
would redound to the interest of his fellow-men, was what he 
desired to live for. 

Lincoln returned to Springfield, and after a 
while his peace of mind is partially restored. But 
he is tortured by the thought that he had broken 
his troth to Mary Todd, and thinks that she is 
dreadfully unhappy — which probably she was not. 

" I should have been entirely happy but for the never-absent 
idea that there is one still unhappy whom I have contributed 
to make so. That kills my soul ! I cannot but reproach 
myself for even wishing to be happy while she is otherwise." 

And meantime our poor Abe — with his absence 

56 Some. Old Love Stories 

of what Mr. Herndon calls the " money sense " — 
with his inherited blood from Thomas Lincoln and 
Nancy Hanks — can't get on. " I do not think," he 
writes to his good friends in Kentucky, " I can 
come to Kentucky this season. I am so poor, and 
make so little headway in the world that I drop 
back in a month of idleness as much as I gain in a 
year's sowing." 

He began to practise law again ; and Mary Todd 
was finally fading from his memory, when a well- 
intentioned woman conceived the disastrous idea 
of bringing them together again. They met 
privately, were re-engaged, and at last Lincoln one 
morning announced to his astonished friends that 
he was going to be married that very evening. 

If Lincoln was going to begin a life of misery, it 
was not without a pretty clear consciousness of 
what he was doing. A boy seeing him dressing 
for the wedding, and unaccustomed to see him so 
handsomely attired, asked him where he was going. 
"To hell, I suppose," was Lincoln's reply. And 
as he stood before the clergyman, he is described to 
be " as pale and trembling as if being driven to 

And here now is how Mr. Herndon sums up the 
complication of matters that led to this unhappy, 
inauspicious union — 

To me it has always been plain that Mr. Lincoln married 
Mary Todd to save his honour, and in doing that he sacrificed 
his domestic peace. He had searched himself subjectively. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 


introspectively, thoroughly ; he knew he did not love her. 
The hideous thought came up like a nightmare. As the 
fatal first of January 1841 neared, the clouds around him 
blackened the heavens, and his life almost went out with the 
storm. But soon the skies cleared. Friends interposed their 
aid to avert a calamity, and at last he stood face to face with 
the conflict between honour and domestic peace. He chose 
the former, and with it years of self-torture, sacrificial pangs, 
and the loss for ever of a happy home. With Miss Todd a 
different motive, equally as unfortunate, prompted her 
adherence to the union. To marry Lincoln meant, not a life 
of luxury and ease, for Lincoln was not a man to accumulate 
wealth, but in him she saw position in society, prominence 
in the world, and the grandest social distinction. By that 
means her ambition would be satisfied. Until the fatal New 
Year's Day in 1841 she may have loved him, but his action 
on that occasion forfeited her affection. He had crushed 
her proud womanly spirit. She felt degraded in the eyes of 
the world. Love fled at the approach of revenge. Some 
writer — it is Junius, I believe — has said that " Injuries may 
be forgiven and forgotten, but insults admit of no compen- 
sation ; they degrade the mind in its own self-esteem, and 
force it to recover its level by revenge." Whether Mrs. 
Lincoln really was moved by the spirit of revenge or not, she 
acted long the lines of human conduct. She led her husband 
a wild and merry dance. If, in her time, she became soured 
at the world, it was not without provocation, and if in later 
years she unchained the bitterness of a disappointed and 
outraged nature, it followed as logically as an effect does the 


No human being who has had any experience in 
life ever ventures to declare dogmatically why it is 
that any marriage between any two individuals is 
unhappy. This is a secret which in all its recesses 

58 Some Old Love Stones 

is known to only two individuals ; and they nearly 
always keep the secret well. The story of Lincoln 
and his wife is particularly obscure. A husband is 
utterly wanting in anything like real manliness who 
proclaims abroad the secret of his home troubles, 
and Lincoln was a thorough man. There were 
occasions when his stoicism, reticence, and high 
sense of honour broke down under the constant 
strain ; and these moments give lurid glimpses of 
all he must have suffered. For a considerable 
period after his marriage, Lincoln was still what I 
must call an itinerant lawyer. In telling the story 
of Lincoln's married unhappiness, I am glad that 
now and then I shall have to make extracts which 
will bring before the reader pictures of the strange 
old life which lawyers of his type used to lead in 
the early days of American existence. Listen to 
our delightful Herndon, for instance, describing- 
one of those expeditions ; the homeliness and 
almost squalor of the life arc exalted by its 
simplicity, good-humour, and brotherliness. The 
following passage, besides, gives us a good picture 
of Lincoln's method of work — 

Frequently I would go out on circuit with him. We 
usually, at the little country inns, occupied the same bed. In 
most cases beds were too short for him, and his feet would 
hang over the footboard, thus exposing a limited expanse of 
shin-bone. Placing a candle on a chair at the head of the 
bed, he would read and study for hours. I have known him 
to study in this position till two o'clock in the morning. 
Meanwhile I, and others who chanced to occupy the same 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 59 

room, would be safely and soundly asleep. On the circuit in 
this way he studied Euclid until he could with ease demon- 
strate all the propositions in the six books. How he could 
maintain his mental equilibrium or concentrate his thoughts 
on an abstract mathematical proposition while Davis Logan, 
Lovett, Edwards, and I so modestly and volubly filled the 
air with our interminable snoring was a problem none of 
us could ever solve. 

The remainder of the picture is equally good, 
and it is especially valuable at this moment, for it 
gives us one of the first glimpses of that unhappy 
home which was the dark background to Lincoln's 
whole existence — 

On Saturdays the court and attorneys, if within a reason- 
able distance, would usually start for their homes. Some 
went for a fresh supply of clothing, but the greater number 
went simply to spend a day of rest with their families. The 
only exception was Lincoln, who usually spent his Sundays 
with the loungers at the country tavern, and only went home 
at the end of the circuit or term. " At first," relates one of 
his colleagues on the circuit, " we wondered at it, but soon 
learned to account for his strange disinclination to go home. 
Lincoln himself never had much to say about home, and we 
never felt free to comment upon it. Most of us had pleasant, 
inviting homes, and as we struck out for them I am sure 
each one of us down in our hearts had a mingled feeling of 
pity and sympathy for him." 

And then there comes another delightful passage, 
bringing out that strange contradiction in Lincoln's 
character of outward gaiety and internal gloom 
which has been the characteristic of so many sad 
men in all history — 

If the day was long and he was oppressed, the feeling 
was soon relieved by the narration of a story. The tavern 

60 Some Old Love Stories 

loungers enjoyed it, and his melancholy, taking to itself 
wings, seemed to fly away. In the role of a story-teller I 
am prone to regard Mr. Lincoln as without an equal. I have 
seen him surrounded by a crowd numbering as many as 
two, or in some cases three, hundred persons, all simply 
interested in the outline of a story which, when he had 
finished it, speedily found repetition in every grocery and 
lounging-place within reach. His power of mimicry and his 
manner of recitation were in many respects unique, if not 
remarkable. His countenance and all his features seemed 
to take part in the performance. As he neared the pith or 
point of the joke or story every vestige of seriousness dis- 
appeared from his face. His little grey eyes sparkled, a 
smile seemed to gather up, curtain-like, the corners of his 
mouth; his frame quivered with suppressed excitement; and 
when the point— or " nub " of the story, as he called it— came, 
no one's laugh was heartier than his. These backwood alle- 
gories are out of date now ; any lawyer ambitious to gain 
prominence would hardly dare thus to entertain a crowd 
except at the risk of his reputation; but with Lincoln it gave 
him in some mysterious way a singularly firm hold on the 


THIS is a sad picture enough in its mixture of 
comedy and tragedy ; but it is only one of several 
throughout this book. Mr. Herndon's pictures, as 
I have already said, have been described as highly 
coloured ; but he maintains their accuracy ; and all 
I heard from my poor friend Ward Lamon, and 
from others, seems to confirm the general truth of 
the picture he has drawn. 

Before describing any of these scenes of Lincoln's 
domestic life, I pause for a moment to discuss what 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 6i 

were some of the causes that led to this frightful 
unhappiness. The first was undoubtedly the in- 
firmity of Mrs. Lincoln's temper. There are undeni- 
able proofs of this infirmity, one of the most con- 
vincing being the fact that she was never able to keep 
a servant for any length of time. One servant she 
did keep for many years ; but it turned out that 
this woman was in receipt of a dollar a week from 
Mr. Lincoln, as a reward for her docility — 

The money was paid secretly, and without the knowledge 
of Mrs. Lincoln. Frequently, after tempestuous scenes 
between the mistress and her sen-ant, Lincoln at the first 
opportunity would place his hand encouragingly on the 
tetter's shoulder, with the admonition, " Mary, keep up your 

Another proof is that Lincoln used to obey every 
wish of his wife with almost slavish docility. " He 
always," says his biographer, " meekly accepted as 
final the authority of his wife in all matters of 
domestic concern." 

One day a man making some improvements in Mr. 
Lincoln's yard suggested the propriety of cutting down some 
trees, to which she willingly assented. Before doing so, 
however, the man came down to the office and consulted 
Mr. Lincoln himself about it. " What did Mrs. Lincoln say ? " 
inquired the latter. " She consented to have it taken away." 
" Then, in God's name," exclaimed Mr. Lincoln, " cut it down 
to the roots." 

Often the unfortunate husband had to make 
public reparation for some of the offences given by 
his sharp-tongued and fiery-tempered wife. Hern- 

62 Some Old Love Stories 

don gives a touching little letter of apology to a 
newspaper proprietor. On another occasion a man 
had called to discuss with Mrs. Lincoln her rather 
unceremonious dismissal of his niece. He was 
received with " such violent gestures and emphatic 
language that the man was glad to beat a hasty 

He at once started out to find Lincoln, determined to 
exact from him proper satisfaction for his wife's action. 
Lincoln was entertaining a crowd at the store at the time. 
The man, still labouring under some agitation, called him to 
the door and made the demand. Lincoln listened for a 
moment, but interrupting him he said, " I regret to hear 
this, but let me ask you in all candour, cannot you endure for 
a few moments what I have had as my portion for the last 
fifteen years ? " These words were spoken so melancholy, 
and with such a look of distress, that the man was com- 
pletely disarmed. . . Grasping the unfortunate husband, he 
expressed in no uncertain terms his sympathy, and even 
apologized for having approached him. He said no more 
about it, and afterwards he had no better friend in Springfield. 

It was only after Lincoln's death that the world 
began to understand what he must have suffered 
and what was the real cause. His unfortunate wife 
was victim as well as assailant, for her evil temper, 
her constant outbursts, her fierce and persistent 
unreason, were all due to a partially unsound brain. 
After Lincoln's assassination, she stripped the 
White House of a vast quantity of things to which 
she had no right whatever ; she collected quantities 
of silk dresses — which she never wore — until the 
floor of the store-room nearly gave way ; and for a 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 6; 


year or two before her death it was her habit to 
immure herself in a perfectly dark room, using a 
small candle-light, even when the sun was shining 
out of doors. And thus, with the comprehensive 
charity of his profession, does a physician who 
knew her in these latter years sum her up — 

She was bright and sparkling in conversation, and her 
memory remained singularly good up to the very close of 
her life. Her face was animated and pleasing, and to me 
she was always an interesting woman; and while the whole 
world was finding fault with her temper and disposition, it 
was clear to me that the trouble was really a cerebral disease 


So quoth our doctor; but to analyze a wife's 
tantrums and find them due to a " cerebral disease," 
as doubtless they were, is more satisfactory to 
science than to the unhappy husband. And it is 
clear that Lincoln throughout his whole married 
life was made steadily, persistently, and profoundly 
miserable by Mrs. Lincoln's vagaries. 

A few more extracts will help to bring this out 
more clearly than I have yet done. Here, for 
instance, is a picture of Lincoln's Sunday which is 
tragic in its incurable sadness — 

He was in the habit, when at home on Sunday, of bring- 
ing his two boys, Willie and Thomas— or " Tad "—down to 
the office to remain while his wife attended church. He 
seldom accompanied her there. The boys were absolutely 

64 Some Old Love Stones 

unrestrained in their amusement. If they pulled down all the 
books from the shelves, bent the points of all the pens, over- 
turned inkstands, scattered law-papers over the floor, or 
threw pencils into the spittoon, it never disturbed the serenity 
of their father's good-nature. Frequently absorbed in thought, 
he never observed their mischievous but destructive pranks, 
as his unfortunate partner did, who thought much but said 
nothing ; and even if brought to his attention, he virtually 
encouraged their repetition by declining to show any sub- 
stantial evidence of parental disapproval. After church was 
over the boys and their father, climbing down the office stairs, 
ruefully turned their steps homeward. As they mingled with 
the throngs of well-dressed people returning from church, 
the majority might well have wondered if the trio they 
passed were going to a fireside where love and white-winged 
peace reigned supreme. 

There are two other pictures — one of which I 
will reserve to the close of this essay. The first 
is a description of Lincoln in his office by his 

Mr. Lincoln never had a confidant, and therefore never 
unbosomed himself to others. He never spoke of his grief 
to me, or, as far as I know, to any of his friends. It was a 
great burden to cany, but he bore it sadly, and without a 
murmur. I could always realize when he was in distress 
without being told. He was not exactly an early riser, and 
he never usually appeared at his office until about nine 
o'clock in the morning. I usually preceded him an hour. 
Sometimes, however, he would come down as early as seven 
o'clock ; in fact, on one occasion I remember he came down 
before daylight. If on arriving at the office I found him 
in, I knew instantly that a breeze had sprung up over the 
domestic sea, and that the waters were troubled. He would 
either be lying "on the lounge, looking skyward, or doubled 
up in a chair, with his feet resting on the sill of the back 

As I passed out on these occasions . , , before I reached 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 65 

the bottom of the stairs, I could hear the key turned in the 
lock, and Lincoln was alone in his gloom. . . . Noon having 
arrived, I would depart homeward for my dinner. Returning 
within an hour, I would find him still in the office — although 
his house stood but a few squares away — lunching on a slice 
of cheese and a handful of crackers, which in my absence 
had been brought up from the store below. Separating from 
it at five or six o'clock in the evening, I would still leave him 
behind, sitting on a box at the foot of the stairway, entertain- 
ing a few loungers or killing time in the same way on the 
court-house steps. A light in the office after dark attested 
his presence there till late in the night, when after all the 
world had gone to sleep the tall form of the man destined to 
be the nation's President could have been seen strolling 
along in the shadows of trees and buildings, and quietly 
slipping in through the door of a modest frame house which 
it pleased the world in a conventional way to call his home. 

There are those who maintain that Lincoln's 
wife was the real, though unintentional, cause of his 
political greatness. It was she who drove him 
out into the world, and it was the acquaintance 
he thus made with all the people around him 
which helped to make him what he was. If she 
had been a different woman, Lincoln, says one 
of his friends, " would have been buried in the 
pleasures of a loving home, and the country 
would never have had Abraham Lincoln for its 

It must, too, be acknowledged that Mrs. Lincoln 
had her grievances. Her stupid family pride, her 
poor, petty, little gentility, were constantly shocked 
by her husband's want of the small manners of 
society. He remained to the end shy and awk- 

66 Some Old Love Stories 

ward in the presence of ladies. He did not make 
money ; he dressed badly. " Mrs. Lincoln," says 
one of her relatives, " came of the best stock, and 
,vas raised as a lady. . . . She raised ' merry war ' 
because he persisted in using his own knife in the 
butter instead of the silver-handled one intended 
for that purpose." On one occasion, our poor Abe 
— who had been lying on the floor reading, with 
the back of a chair for a pillow — answered the 
knock of two ladies in his shirt-sleeves, and com- 
pleted his offence by observing that he would " trot 
the women-folks out." 

Mrs. Lincoln from an adjoining room witnessed the ladies 
enter, and overheard her husband's jocose expression. Her 
indignation was so instantaneous she made the situation 
exceedingly interesting for him, and he was glad to retreat 
from the mansion. He did not return till very late at night, 
and then slipped quietly in at a rear door. 

Of such trifles may conjugal tragedies be com- 
posed, when the lady of the house has a small mind, 
a quick temper, and the petty pretentiousness of 
the provincial bourgeoisel 

As to poor Abe's clothes, they were a trouble to 
him, as we have seen, from his earliest days, and 
so they remained to the end. Nothing is more 
delightful in this biography than its thoroughly 
frank humanness. I dare say our charming Hern- 
don has been greatly maligned because he has 
given so courageous and audaciously candid an 
account of his hero : he may console himself by 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 67 

the reflection that the more human he has made 
him, the more lovable the hero has become. 

Here is a picture of our Abe when he was circuit 
lawyer. It is to my mind a beautiful little sketch 
of a country lawyer in prehistoric times. 

His hat was brown, faded, and the nap usually worn or 
rubbed off. He wore a short cloak, and sometimes a shawl. 
His coat and vest hung loosely on his gaunt frame, and his 
trousers were invariably too short. On circuit he carried in 
one hand a faded green umbrella, with " A. Lincoln " in large 
white cotton or muslin letters sewed on the inside. The 
knob was gone from the handle, and when closed a piece of 
cord was usually tied round it in the middle, to keep it from 
flying open. In the other hand he carried a literal carpet- 
bag, in which were stored the few papers to be used in court, 
and underclothing enough to last until his return to Spring- 
field. He slept in a long coarse yellow flannel shirt, which 
reached half-way between his knees and ankles. It was 
probably not made to fit his bony figure as completely as 
Beau Brummel's shirt, and hence we can somewhat appreciate 
the sensation of a young lawyer, who on seeing him thus 
arrayed for the first time, observed afterwards that " he was 
the ungodliest figure I ever saw." 

And again of this hat our Herndon speaks in his 
inimitable Americanese — 

This hat of Lincoln's — a silk plug — was an extraordinary 
receptacle. It was his desk and his memorandum book. In it 
he carried his bank-book and the bulk of his letters. When- 
ever in his reading or researches he wished to preserve an 
idea, he jotted it down on an envelope or stray piece of paper 
and placed it inside the lining. Afterwards, when the 
memorandum was needed, there was only one place to look 
for it. 

One of Lincoln's early glories was an invitation 

68 Some Old Love Stories 

to deliver a lecture in New York before the critical 
audience of the metropolis. The lecture was a 
great success, and became a powerful campaign 
document, but our poor Abraham was all the time 
afflicted by the fact that 

the new suit of clothes which he donned on his arrival in 
New York were ill-fitting garments, and showed the creases 
made while packed in the valist, and for a long time after 
he began his speech, and before he became " warmed up," he 
imagined that the audience noticed the contrast between his 
western clothes and the neat-fitting suits of Mr. Bryant and 
others who sat on the platform. The collar of his coat on 
the right side had an unpleasant way of flying up when he 
raised his right arm to gesticulate. He imagined the audience 
noticed that also. 

And finally, on the great day when he was 
delivering his inaugural address as one of the 
greatest of rulers, he was still tortured by his clothes. 
Herndon, his old friend, is present as he mounts the 
platform before the Capitol in which this ceremony 
takes place. 

To me, at least, he was completely metamorphosed, partly 
by his own fault and partly through the efforts of injudicious 
friends and ambitious tailors. He was raising (to gratify a 
very young lady, it is said) a crop of whiskers, of the black- 
brush variety, coarse, stiff, and ungraceful ; and in so doing 
spoiled, or at least seriously impaired, a face which, though 
never handsome, had in its original state a peculiar power 
and pathos. On the present occasion the whiskers were 
reinforced by brand-new clothes from top to toe ; black dress 
coat, instead of the usual frock, black cloth or satin vest, 
black pantaloons, and a glossy hat, evidently just out of the 
box. To cap the climax of novelty, he carried a huge ebony 
cane, with a gold head the size of an egg. In these, to him, 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 69 

strange habiliments, he looked so miserably uncomfortable 
that I could not help pitying him. Reaching the platform, 
his discomfort was visibly increased by not knowing what to 
do with hat and cane ; and so he stood there, the target for 
ten thousand eyes, holding the cane in one hand and the hat 
in the other, the very picture of helpless embarrassment. 
After some hesitation, he pushed the cane into a corner of 
the railing, but could not find a place for the hat, except on 
the floor, where I could see he did not like to risk it. 
Douglas, who fully took in the situation, came to the rescue 
of his old friend and rival, and held the precious hat until the 
owner needed it again. 


IT has not been my purpose — as will have been 
seen — to give much of the public side of Lincoln's 
life. That is already well known, and the real 
novelty of the book before me is its picture of the 
inner man. I shall, then, assume his nomination and 
election to the Presidency, and come to the moment 
when he had to bid farewell to the humble sur- 
roundings and the humble friends of his youth. To 
my readers I hope I have made some of those 
scenes and persons familiar embodiments by this 
time. He visited the old home where his step- 
mother was still living, visited the unmarked grave 
of poor, shiftless Thomas Lincoln, and, stopping at 
Charleston, recalled the time when he had entered 
Illinois as an ox-driver. One man had brought 
with him a horse which the President-elect, in the 
earlier days of his law practice, had recovered for 

jo Some Old Love Stories 

him in a replevin suit. Another one was able to 
recite from personal recollection the thrilling details 
of the famous wrestling-match between Lincoln, 
the flat-boatman of 1830, and Daniel Needham ; 
all had some reminiscences of his early manhood 
to relate. 

It will be remembered that he had always loved 
his step-mother ; the parting from her was one of 
the saddest and most significant episodes of this 
sweetly bitter time, and it brings out better than 
anything else the combination of gratified ambition, 
harrowing cares, and haunting foreboding which 
such a nature as Lincoln's was bound to feel at 
such a time. 

The parting, when the poor old woman, with tears stream- 
ing down her cheeks, gave him a mother's benediction, 
expressing the fear that his life might be taken by his 
enemies, will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. 
Deeply impressed by this farewell scene, Mr. Lincoln reluct- 
antly withdrew from the circle of warm friends who crowded 
around him, and filled with gloomy forebodings of the 
future, returned to Springfield. 

Thither came other friends of his youth also; 
and thither came also the haunting memory of that 
early, tender love with a gentle soul, which must 
have so often visited him in all the years of 
companionship with that other woman — hot, fierce, 
incalculable — to whom destiny, in one of its most 
ironic moments, had joined him. I will let our 
Herndon tell the story. 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 71 

Isaac Cogsdale, another New Salem pioneer, came, and to 
him Lincoln again admitted his love for the unfortunate 
Anne Rutledge. Cogsdale afterwards told me of this Inter- 
view. It occurred late in the afternoon. Mr. Nicholay, the 
secretary, had gone home, and the throng of visitors had 
ceased for the day. Lincoln asked about all the early families 
of New Salem, calling up the peculiarities of each as he 
went over the list. Of the Rutledges he said — " I have loved 
the name of Rutledge to this day ; I have kept my mind on 
their movements ever since." Of Anne he spoke with some 
feeling — " 1 loved her dearly. She was a handsome girl, 
would have made a good, loving wife ; she was natural, and 
quite intellectual, though not highly educated. I did honestly 
and truly love the girl, and think often of her now." 

There also came the wife of the owner of that 
poor little inn, where Lincoln had boarded in that 
dreary epoch when he had not the price of a bed 
or a dinner. Hannah Armstrong had mended his 
breeches, had employed him to save her son from 
the gallows — there is a strange story about that 
episode which I have been unable to tell — and had 
since, from afar, watched his rise in the world. 

She bade him good-bye, but was filled with a presentiment 
that she would never see him alive again. " Hannah," he 
said jovially, " if they do kill me I shall never die again." 


Lincoln might thus try to laugh it off, but the 
forebodings of his friends were shared by himself. 
Herndon and all Lincoln's other intimates declare 
that the certainty of his ending in assassination 

J2 Some Old Love Stories 

rarely, if ever, left him. This apprehension of evil 
was part of a nature essentially morbid and melan- 
choly as Lincoln's was. It was part of his heritage 
from Nancy Hanks. 

Lincoln's melancholy never failed to impress any man 
who ever saw or knew him. The perpetual look of sadness 
was his most prominent feature. The cause of this peculiar 
condition was a matter of frequent discussion among his 
friends. John T. Stewart said it was his abnormal digestion. 
. . . The reader can hardly realize the extent of this peculiar 
tendency to gloom. One of Lincoln's colleagues in the 
Legislature of Illinois is authority for the statement coming 
from Lincoln himself, that " this mental depression became so 
intense at times that he never dared carry a pocket-knife." 
Two things greatly intensified his characteristic sadness : 
one was the endless succession of troubles in his domestic 
life which he had to bear in silence ; and the other was 
unquestionably the knowledge of his own obscure and lowly 
origin. The recollection of those things burned a deep 
impression on his sensitive soul. 

Our Herndon sums up the discussion with his 
usual good sense, and in his own inimitable style, 
thus — 

As to the cause of this morbid condition, my idea has always 
been that it was occult, and could not be explained by any 
course of observation and reasoning. It was ingrained, and 
being ingrained, could not be reduced to rale, or the cause 
arraigned. It was merely hereditary, but whether it came 
down from a long line of ancestors and far back, or was 
simply the reproduction of the saddened life of Nancy Hanks, 
cannot well be determined. At any rate, it was part of his 
nature, and could no more be shaken off than he could part 
with his brains. 

As I am about to give a domestic scene in the 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 

/ o 

days of Lincoln's greatness, I will precede it with 
a few words from a description of another scene in 
the days of his struggling life as a not very success- 
ful country lawyer. I quote one of his neighbours 
in his Springfield home. It is a delightful picture, 
and makes you love the simplicity of the man, and 
still more the simplicity of the life and manners 
of his country and people — things rapidly passing 
away in these days of the omnipotent and ubiquitous 

I lived next door to the Lincolns for many years — knew 
the family well. Mr. Lincoln used to come to our house, his 
feet encased in a pair of loose slippers, and with an old faded 
pair of trousers fastened with one suspender. He frequently 
came to our house for milk. In his yard Lincoln had but 
little shrubbery. He once planted some rose bushes, to 
which he called my attention, but soon neglected them alto- 
gether. He never planted any vines or fruit trees. Seemed 
to have no fondness for such things. He kept his own horse, 
fed and curried it when at home ; he also fed and milked his 
own cow, and sawed his own wood. 

And now for a final scene. The married sister, 
at whose house Lincoln had first met his wife, was, 
it will be remembered, Mrs. Edwards. In the midst 
of the war, Mrs. Edwards paid a visit to the White 
House. Her simple, terse, unpretending narrative 
reveals the inner life of that home, and all the 
tragedy underneath its splendour, as eloquently as 
almost any human document I know. First here 
is a scene in the White House itself — 

One day while there, in order to calm his mind and turn 
his attention away from business and cheer him up, I took 

74 Some Old Love Stones 

Mr. Lincoln down to show him the conservatory belonging 
to the Executive Mansion, and showed him the world of 
flowers represented there. He followed me patiently through. 
" How beautiful these flowers are, how gorgeous these roses ! 
Here are exotics, 1 ' I exclaimed in admiration, "gathered from 
the remotest corners of the world, grand beyond description." 
A moody silence followed, broken finally by Lincoln with this 
observation — " Yes, this whole thing looks like spring ; but 
do you know I have never been here before. I don't know 
why it is so, I never care for flowers ; I seem to have no 
taste, natural or acquired, for such things." 

And then there is a walk in the park north of 
the White House. Lincoln had just lost his son 

On the evening we strolled through the park he spoke of 
it with deep feeling, and he frequently afterwards referred 
to it. 

And now for the final touch of pathos. 

When I announced my intention of leaving Washington 
he was much affected at the news of my departure. We 
were strolling through the White House grounds when he 
begged me, with tears in his eyes, to remain longer. " You 
have such strong control, and such an influence over Mary," 
he continued, "that when trouble comes you can console 
me." The picture of the man's despair never faded from my 
vision. Long after my return to Springfield, on reverting to 
the sad separation, my heart ached because I was unable in 
my feeble way to lighten his burden. 

And so Lincoln was left alone to that duel with 
the madness of his wife and the overshadowing 
gloom of his own inherited nature. This is the man 
who had to carry a people through one of the most 
awful of struggles ; who had to play the leading 

Abraham Lincoln and his Wife 75 

part in a tragedy with a million deaths ; who was 
the very arch and keystone on whom weighed the 
Atlas-burden of a great nation, rent as by earth- 
quake. And looking inside — away from the shouts 
of triumph or of defeat, of idolatrous love, of fren- 
zied hate, of all those millions that adored or that 
cursed him — this is what we find him : a lonely, 
gloomy, smileless man, tied to the fiery wheel of 
an unhappy marriage, and of the heritage of woe 
that comes to some of us from the dim, remote, 
dark depths of our unknown progenitors. 


The influence of great men after death is almost 
as curious and complex a study as their influence 
during life. Often the burly shade is as potent to 
push past the frailer shadows as when they were 
both encased in their very different physical frames. 
More frequently in the land of memories, where 
the spiritual is the chief title to recognition, a 
genius crushed under adverse fortune, — a moral 
influence, which to contemporary Gigmanity re- 
presented naught but failure, — a lofty and beautiful 
but shrinking soul which dwelt in a rickety body, 
was paralyzed by a weak will, or retarded by a 
too-modest self-estimation — very often death brings 
to these vindication and compensation. It is hard 
to discover any law in these things ; and at all 
events, even if there is a discoverable law, it is not 

1 Les Grands Ecrivains Franqais — Mirabeau, par Edmond 
Rousse. Paris : Libraire Hachette. The Fre?ich Revolu- 
tion, by H. Morse Stephens. London : Longmans. Car- 
lyle's Critical Essays. London : Chapman & Hall. The 
French Revolution, by Justin H. McCarthy. London : Chatto 
& Windus. Canseries de Lundi, par C. A. Sainte-Beuve. 
Paris : Gamier Freres. 


Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 77 

within my task in a short essay to go in quest of 
it. The line of thought is, however, immediately 
suggested by the curious hold the man, with whose 
life and character I am about to deal, still keeps 
not only on the memory, but on the affections of 
the generations which have succeeded him. Judged 
by accepted standards Mirabeau was an unredeemed 
rascal, over whose grave humanity ought to curse 
or weep, or lift the shocked and saddened eye. 
Even in the less rigorous — or, shall we say, less 
narrow? — ethics of genial human critics, there are 
passages in his career over which one has to blush. 
And yet the fact remains, this devil of a fellow has 
retained as great a hold on the affection as on the 
admiration of succeeding generations. Of him it 
is as true to-day as in the hour when he walked in 
his burly and sinful flesh, that he has " the terrible 
gift of familiarity," and that "fond gaillard" — 
or "basis of joy and gaiety," as Carlyle well trans- 
lates it — which alternately attracted, puzzled, and 
exasperated his wonderful old father. In short, 
to-day, as more than a century ago, everybody 
loves Mirabeau. 


When Carlyle wrote his wondrous essay on 
Mirabeau, the documents as to the great French- 
man's life were much scantier than they are to-day. 
Carlyle was led into one very natural error : he 

78 Some Old Love Stories 

took the history of the family from the pen of 
Mirabeau himself. A less trustworthy authority 
on such a subject could not exist. In Mirabeau — 
as, perhaps, in most of the men who thrill multi- 
tudes by their tongues — there was a large histrionic 
element. With an ebullient imagination, with 
plenty of the poseur in his character, a Titanic 
supply of personal pride, and the tendency of the 
heaven-born rhetorician to put everything as pic- 
turesquely as possible, Mirabeau dressed up the 
family history in very brilliant feathers. Family 
obscurities were magnified into world-moving per- 
sonages ; small episodes into controlling events ; 
commonplace and unnoticed adventures were 
wrought by skilful stage-carpentery, the limelight 
of a dramatic style and a vehement imagination, 
into scenes as symmetrical and exact as those 
which owe their existence to the hand of the play- 
wright. Then pretension to noble birth was a 
tradition in the family : it had been fought for 
obstinately and resolutely by more than one an- 
cestor; and, finally, Mirabeau, like most leaders 
of the popular forces who have stepped down from 
their natural places, had the weakness to raise the 
height of the pedestal on which he had formerly 

But, making all these abatements, it remains 
true that the family was a very strongly-marked 
one; and that our Mirabeau reproduced some of 
the most prominent characteristics of his strange 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 79 

stock. The tradition is that the Riquettis came 
originally from Florence, settled down in Marseilles, 
and there prospered — half as nobles, half as trades- 
men. In the sixteenth century the family was 
represented by Jean Riquetti, who lives again in 
the pages of Carlyle. 

They (the Riquettis) got footing in Marseilles as trading 
nobles (a kind of French Venice in those days), and took 
with great diligence to commerce. The family biographers 
are careful to say that it was in the Venetian style, however, 
and not ignoble. In which sense, indeed, one of their sharp- 
tongued ancestors, on a certain bishop's unceremoniously 
styling him "Jean de Riquetti, Merchant of Marseilles," 
made ready answer — " I am, or was, merchant of police here ' 
(first consul, an office for nobles only), " as my lord bishop is 
merchant of holy water." Let his reverence take that. At 
all events, the ready-spoken proved first-rate traders ; ac- 
quired their bastide, or mansion (white, on one of those green 
hills behind Marseilles), endless warehouses : acquired the 
lands first of this, then of that ; the lands, village, and castle 
of Mirabeau on the banks of the Durance ; respectable 
castle of Mirabeau, "standing on its scarped rock, in the 
gorge of two valleys, swept by the north wind " — very brown 
and melancholy-looking now ! 

The acquisition of the castle of Mirabeau brought 
into the family the name by which it is now 
universally known. 

The men of the family, in early days, mated with 
women of a like type with themselves. As the 
father of Mirabeau put it, they had a singular 
talent in choosing wives, a talent which neither the 
terrible old Marquis nor his son inherited, it may 
be remarked. 

8o Some Old Love Stories 

One grandmother, whom the Marquis himself might all 
but remember, was wont to say, alluding to the degeneracy 
of the age — " You are men ? You are but mannikins " (si'as 
houmachomes, in Provengal) ; " we women in our time carried 
pistols in our girdles, and could use them too." Or fancy 
the Dame Mirabeau sailing stately towards the church font ; 
another dame striking in to take precedence of her ; the 
Dame Mirabeau despatching this latter with a box on the ear 
(soufflet), and these words — " Here, as in the army, the bag- 
gage goes last ! " Thus did the Riquettis grow, and were 
strong ; and did exploits in their narrow arena, waiting for a 
wider one. (Carlyle.) 


BEFORE I come to the father and son, with 
whom we are mainly concerned, there is one other 
ancestor of whom I must speak ; this was Jean 
Antoine Riquetti de Mirabeau. He lived in the 
days of Louis XIV., and in some respects he 
reminds us of the qualities and defects of his great 
descendant. There is a picturesque account — one 
of the many legendary and highly-coloured stories 
in Mirabeau's chronicles — of this man standing 
alone, and in spite of one hundred wounds, on a 
bridge, which became an important point in the 
battle of Cassano. He is said to have been saved 
by a miracle, and to the day of his death he had to 
have his neck supported by a silver collar ; and he 
himself used to speak of Cassano as "the place 
where I was killed." " He was one of the men," 
wrote his son of him, " whose delight it was to 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 81 

achieve the impossible." And at forty-two years 
of age — with his collar of silver — he married a 
young and beautiful woman, and by her had seven 
children, " without anybody," delicately writes my 
French authority, "ever dreaming of laughing at 

This couple suggest and forecast much of what 
we know of the career of their grandchild ; and, 
indeed, the study of the two is more like one of 
Zola's dreadful pictures of the iron and relentless 
law of heredity than a story of real life. That 
daring in face of a court which the great Mirabeau 
showed in due time, is but an echo of things said 
by his stern grandfather. The warrior — with his 
battered body, with his right arm gone, and with 
his silver collar — is brought by a friend to see 
Louis XIV., who is fond of such doughty soldiers. 
The King doubtless paid the warrior some courtly 
compliments — with this reward, that he got as a 
reply, " Sire, if I had left my flag to come to court 
and bribe some strumpet, I should have had more 
advancement and fewer wounds." It is recorded 
that the King politely affected a momentary deaf- 
ness, but the distracted friend who had set out on 
the perilous enterprise of turning the soldier into a 
courtier, declared that in future he would " never 
present Jean Antoine to any but the enemy." Jean 
Antoine was a hard landlord to his tenants ; but 
he defended them against that vast army of tax- 
payers and licensed robbers who represented the 

82 Some Old Love Stories 

old regime, and had a contempt for the bailiff and 
the sheriff's officer which he communicated to his 
descendants. In some respects, then, this Jean 
Antoine was a revolutionary before the Revolution ; 
it is from him we must partly derive that tendency 
towards Liberalism of opinion which produced in 
good time the treatises of his son and the speeches 
of his grandson. He left his son a more question- 
able legacy in his ideas of parental duty. He 
substituted for the general French friendliness of 
intercourse between father and children, the cold 
and almost harsh reserve which then reigned in the 
families of the English aristocracy. His son was 
sent off to the army when he was but thirteen years 
of age. 

When the son (writes Mr. McCarthy) waited upon the 
sire to say farewell, John Anthony, finding that the carriage 
had not yet come, and unwilling to waste any time in senti- 
mentalisms, made Victor take up a book that was being read 
to him, and continue the reading until the carriage came. 
Then it was simply — " Good-bye, my son ; be wise if you 
wish to be happy." And so, with no other or tenderer words 
ringing in his ears, the son turned upon his heel and went to 
face the world. 


The French writer discreetly passes over the 
final story of Jean Antoine's wife ; but she lived 
till the days of her grandson, and was one of the 
hardest influences over his early years. And from 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 83 

her, too, he must have inherited some of the 
instincts that went to his undoing. I quote from 
Mr. McCarthy's brilliant and not sufficiently well- 
known work on the French Revolution the follow- 
ing picturesque and thrilling picture of her later 
days — 

Her long widowhood was firm, austere, and blameless. 
Her association with that grim ruin of a John Anthony had 
imparted a certain sternness to her nature. She had moulded 
herself, as it were, into a stony, uncompromising inflexibility, 
which lent a kind of Roman hardness to her relations with 
her children and the world. She did not love her youngest 
son, and she did not love the youngest son of her own eldest 
and well-beloved son. Much of the misfortunes of our 
Mirabeau's life may be traced to the severity of his grand- 
mother. But that very severity of discipline and rule, that 
austerity of morality, only serves to throw into more terrible 
relief the last act of that rigid life. After eighty-one years of 
virtue and of piety, the widow of John Anthony was afflicted 
with the most cruel visitation. Her reason left her, and left 
her under peculiarly poignant conditions. Although the 
story of her affliction has been much exaggerated, it is certain 
that her madness led her mind in a direction very different 
from that of its lifelong course. The tortured spirit seems 
to have railed in unwitting blasphemies against heaven, the 
pure tongue to have uttered language of a gross impurity. 
It is inexpressibly tragic to think of this lofty nature reduced 
in extreme old age to abject insanity, accepting only the 
attentions of an old serving-man for whom she is said to have 
conceived a servile affection, and at moments, in brief lucid 
flashes, sending instructions to the religious to pray for her 
soul as for one already dead. Perhaps one of the strangest 
features of this amazing case is that with the delirium of the 
mind the favour of the body altered. Something approach- 
ing to the freshness and the forms of youth returned to the 
aged body, and gave an unnatural and ghastly air of rejuven- 
escence to the unhappy woman. For three years the victim 

84 Some Old Love Stories 

lingered in this case, devotedly guarded and tended by her 
son the Marquis. The letters exchanged between the 
Marquis and his brother, the Bailli, are touching examples 
of filial affection and filial grief. At last, in 1769, she died ; 
her long and noble life of eighty-one years, her long and 
ignoble agony of three years, was sealed by the sepulchre of 
Saint Sulpice. 

I dare say some of my readers will remember 
that terrible picture in one of Zola's latest books, 
in which he described the awful Aunt Dide — 
ancestress of all the Rougon-Macquarts — as she 
lay in her arm-chair, paralyzed, dumb, imbecile, 
upwards of a hundred years of age — her wild 
and stormy youth ending in this night of mind and 
crumbling body ; and all the strange and fearsome 
children of her body carrying with them from her 
some trail of the nervous disease which she em- 
bodied. Is there not something very like this in 
the picture of this terrible grandmother in her old 
age of darkened reason and escaped passion ? And 
in the vagaries and vices of her grandson — with his 
giant frame exhausted at forty-two — is there not 
something to bring before the mind the figures in 
Zola's ghastly portrait gallery, and to confirm their 
almost monotonous moral ? 


I DO not intend to dwell long on the history of 
Mirabeau's father. We have all read of him; he 
has been the standing dish of wit and wrath — with 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 85 

his contradictions of " friend of man," and enemy 
of his own household. Sent to the army when he 
was thirteen, to Paris when he was seventeen, 
he had a youth that was almost as stormy as that 
of his son. He was a constant attendant at the 
theatres ; was one of a band of young rowdies that 
kicked up nightly disturbances ; was the lover for 
some time of a pretty actress, sharing her favours 
philosophically with others — and then for a few 
years he went soldiering. By twenty-eight he 
had sobered down, and already had begun to con- 
sider those profound political problems to which 
the hideous poverty of France, the corruption in 
high places, and the work of Rousseau and the 
Encyclopaedists were attracting all intelligent and 
original minds. It was these floating ideas which 
led to the most foolish and disastrous step of his 
life — disastrous not only to him but to his family, 
and above all, to his son. Mdlle. de Vassan had 
a large fortune, many lands, a great number of 
tenants ; and the philosophic Mirabeau saw in all 
this the prospect of attempting those theories of 
his with regard to the government of the human 
race which were already seething in his brain. He 
never saw his wife until the day of the contract; 
and the loveless marriage ended — as so often is the 
case — in hideous quarrels, in public and clamorous 
scandals ; in entire family division ; and finally, in 
angry and enduring separation. 

The Marquis Mirabeau had no sooner got pos- 

86 Some Old Love Stones 

session of the lands than he proceeded to make 
experiments upon them — costly, crude, and ruinous. 
He was fanatically proud of his family position and 
history ; it was he who made the arrogant declara- 
tion that his family had made only one mesalliance, 
and that was when one of them married a Medici. 
And yet his opinions were practically democratic, 
and he tried at once to be a grand seigneur and 
a teacher of economic and political truth to his 
generation. The intricacies and redundancies of 
his style have hidden many of his real merits from 
those who have since tried to read him ; but there 
are many passages in his works which antedate by 
nearly half-a-century the great principles that were 
still being fought for in 1789. M. Rousse makes 
several extracts from the famous work of the 
elder Mirabeau, which I have not time to quote ; 
but they establish a fact which the eccentricities, 
inconsistencies, and cruelties of the old Mirabeau 
sometimes obscure, namely, that he was a man of 
real political sagacity, and that in some respects the 
son was only the mouthpiece of his father's written 
ideas ; and finally, they show that there was some 
justification for the statement of the son, that of the 
two the father was the greater man. And it is cer- 
tain that the Marquis had attained a remarkable and 
a very widespread reputation as a political writer 
long before his son was even heard of. This is what 
M. Rousse has to say, for instance, of the effect of the 
publication of the famous L'Ami des Homines — 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 8j 

The publication of The Friend of Man excited transports of 
admiration in all Europe. In Paris it created a furore ; 
fashion added its intoxicating favours to the delights of 
renown. Soon discovered under his philanthropic pseudonym, 
the Marquis was called by his assumed, and was nearly losing 
his real, name ; people simply spoke of him as the " Friend 
of Man." A crowd formed to see him pass in the streets ; 
he knew every intoxication of fame ; eminent advocates 
quoted him in pleading before the High Courts, and the title 
of his book was even used as a signboard for shops. 

In addition, the Marquis Mirabeau was one of 
the first to preach the doctrine of the Physiocrats 
— the forerunners of that gospel of the Single Tax 
of which we hear so much to-day, and in their 
time the first reformers who put forth anything like 
a reasoned-out remedy for the inequalities and 
iniquities of the hideous taxation of France at this 
period. I dwell on this side of Mirabeau's father. 
To understand the political, and, to some extent, 
literary greatness of the son, it is necessary that we 
should know that the blood of a litterateur and a 
political philosopher was in his veins, and was part 
of his heritage. 


Gabriel HONORE, the son, was born in 1749. 
Inauspicious and contradictory was his first appear- 
ance. He had an immense head, a twisted foot, 
two full-grown teeth when he came into the world ; 
and at three years of age he had an attack of the 

88 Some Old Love Stories 

small-pox which permanently disfigured his face. 
" Your nephew is as ugly as Satan," wrote his father 
to his brother, the Bailli — one of the many terrible 
afflictions and humiliations which this son was to 
inflict on the father, for beauty was hereditary in 
the men as well as the women of the Riquetti 
family; and Honore Gabriel was the first to break 
the tradition. The father watches the growth of 
this portent " without tenderness, without aversion," 
writes M. Rousse, " with the sulky curiosity of a 
naturalist studying a ' monster ' whose classification 
he has not yet learned to make." He attempts to 
bring up the child according to his theories, and 
exhausts every scholastic means of disciplining his 
mind and character — not with much success. As 
Carlyle well puts it — 

The scientific paternal hand must interfere, at every turn, 
to assist Nature ; the young lion's whelp has to grow up all 
bestrapped, bemuzzled in the most extraordinary manner ; 
shall wax and unfold himself by theory of education, by 
square and rule, — going punctual, all the way, like Harrison 
clockwork. ... At bottom the Marquis's wish and purpose 
was not complex, but simple. That Gabriel Honore" de 
Riquetti shall become the very same man that Victor de 
Riquetti is — perfect as he is perfect : this will satisfy the fond 
father's heart, and nothing short of this. Better exemplar, 
truly, were hard to find ; and yet, O Victor de Riquetti, poor 
Gabriel, on his side, wishes to be Gabriel and not Victor ! 

But something of all this education does remain 
with Mirabeau. That memory of his is perfectly 
marvellous ; and when he is a great Tribune, there 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 89 

comes back to him some of the phrases and ideas 
he has had to learn as a rebellious and often dis- 
graced school-boy. At five years of age he is placed 
under the charge of a M. Poisson, an enlightened 
tutor, and for five years this tutor laboriously 
crams the big head with all kinds of knowledge — 
Greek, Latin, history, philosophy. From his earliest 
years Mirabeau shows that passion for public 
appearances and public applause which is the 
master factor of his existence. His father, after 
his own crabbed fashion, describes him at eight 
years as a fine talker, " a comedian by instinct 
and from his very birth " ; so much so that even 
at that age he appears on the stage of a small 
theatre which the faithful tutor has erected for him. 
When he is sent to a school at Paris, the same love 
of distinction, the same desire to be heard of and 
to make a public appearance, is his chief passion. 
" Capricious, unequal, oscillating between the black- 
hole and the seat of honour, as unmanageable in his 
success as in his failure," so M. Rousse describes 
him. And then comes an instance of that strange 
hold over others which was one of his most marked 
characteristics throughout his life — 

The master wants to expel him ; his comrades protest, and 
insist that he shall remain — not that they loved him very 
much, but in their eyes he is a personage. The attention he 
attracts amuses them ; his air of importance adds to their 
own dignity ; without him the house would be empty. At 
seventeen years of age he covers himself with glory by de- 
claiming a piece after his own style — a parallel between the 

90 Some Old Love Stories 

great Conde and Scipio Africanus. He begins to make a 
noise in the world. "The young eaglet," writes Bachau- 
mont, " already soars in the same region as his father. 


LIKE all the other Mirabeaus, Gabriel Honore 
has to begin as a soldier. His father is already 
convinced of his incorrigible iniquity ; and by way 
of marking his resentment in the most cutting 
fashion, will not allow him to assume either of the 
great family names. The father's hated wife has 
an estate called Buffieres ; it is as Pierre de Buf- 
fieres, a very ignominious substitute for Riquetti 
or Mirabeau, that our poor Honore enters on his 
soldier's life. This does not cure him ; he gambles, 
gets into debt, borrows from everybody — "ser- 
geants, private soldiers, all were one to him," writes 
the angry father, — and finally begins a career, in 
which he is said to have had few equals, by seduc- 
ing the daughter of one of the barrack officials. 
He spends five months in prison, gets a further 
term of imprisonment when he is caught after 
running away, and then is sent to Corsica, where 
Paoli is making his last attempt to rescue Corsica 
from France. It is a curious coincidence that at 
the moment when Mirabeau, eighteen years of age, 
is campaigning in Corsica, Letitia Ramolino, wife 
of Carlo Bonaparte, in the midst of flight and of 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 91 

bullets and civil war, gives birth at Ajaccio to him 
who was known afterwards as Napoleon Bona- 
parte. It is characteristic of that sublime self- 
confidence which Mirabeau always felt, that this 
short campaign should have been quite sufficient 
to convince him that generalship was really his 
vocation. " What I am more than anything else," 
he wrote, " is a soldier. I have received from nature 
a power of taking an unerring and quick observa- 
tion. There is no book on war in any language, 
living or dead, which I have not read. I can show 
articles of mine on every detail of the trade, from 
the most important subject down to the smallest 
points in artillery, engineering, and commissariat." 
Whatever other people might do, Mirabeau never 
doubted himself. When he was twenty-three Mira- 
beau followed the example of his father in making a 
marriage purely of convenience. Mdlle. de Marig- 
nan was a great heiress ; she was betrothed to 
another; but Mirabeau, having made up his mind 
to have her, talked, wrote, flattered ; and, finally — 
he is audacious and tasteless enough to avow it 
afterwards — so compromised the young woman 
that marriage became her only escape from dis- 
honour. His marriage was characterized by almost 
that very same style of adventure as his father's. 
Like his father, he saw in the union but a means 
of gratifying his luxurious and extravagant tastes ; 
with this difference, that his father wasted money 
in philosophic experiment as well as in luxurious 

92 Some Old Love Stories 

ostentation ; while the son seems to have had no 
desires whatever for expending money in the inter- 
ests of the human race. In fifteen months the 
scapegrace had managed to get into debt to the 
extent of 200,000 livres ; he had borrowed from 
every usurer in the province, and his exasperated 
tradesmen had at last resolved to procure his arrest. 
This was the moment when one of the many 
evil resources of the old regime came into opera- 
tion. The father was able to get the son exiled 
by a decree from the King. Mirabeau was not in 
the least ashamed — he rejoices even afterwards 
over this stroke of luck — and his happiness is 
rendered still more complete when a little later his 
father obtains from a Paris tribunal a decree of 
suspension of civil rights. It throws a lurid light 
on the methods of the regime that this decree 
had the effect of giving Mirabeau immunity from 
arrest for debt. " Even to the last day of his life," 
writes M. Rousse, " the great bankrupt could defy 
the attacks of his creditors, owing to this humiliating 


MEANTIME, the loveless marriage has turned 
out disastrously at even an earlier period, and in 
even more vulgar fashion, than that of his father. 
Mirabeau doubtless began the infidelities ; un- 
doubtedly the wife followed the example ; she took and Sophie de Monnier 93 

as her lover an officer in a musketry regiment. 
This led to an episode which throws a curious 
light on Mirabeau's character; and especially on 
its curious love of the theatrical — of publicity, and 
on its absence of all power of seeing the comic in 
his own conduct and character. I quote from 
M. Rousse — 

This lamentable accident caused the most profound sur- 
prise. But soon, taking things with a high hand, he gave to 
his domestic dishonour that theatrical and grandiose aspect 
which in this family made a tragedy out of every accident, 
an epic out of every episode. Overwhelming his faithless 
spouse with his scornful pardon, he thundered forth against 
the " infamous seducer " in a long letter full of apostrophes 
and prosopopoeias in which all the rhetoric of the Nouvelle 
Heloise was scattered in tropes and figures. As, for example, 
" Unworthy mortal, never appear before me, for may heaven's 
lightning annihilate me if I do not destroy you." 

This was followed by even a more extraordinary 
step. He learned that his rival was anxious to 
marry, but that there were obstacles in the way. 
One night nothing would do our Mirabeau but to 
go in hottest haste to the relatives of the young 
lady, and before he left, he had succeeded in 
making his rival a happy man ! 

This expedition led to one of his worst mis- 
fortunes. He had a sister — very much like him 
in audacity, in sharpness of wit, and probably also 
in looseness of morals. She involved her brother 
in one of her many quarrels ; he had a wretched 
pugilistic encounter in the open streets with one of 


Some Old Love Stories 

her enemies ; and as a result he was arrested and 
sent to prison — first to that Chateau d'lf where the 
immortal hero of Monte Cristo was also in his day 
supposed to have been lodged. From the Chateau 
d'lf — where a small love affair consoled his hours 
— he was transferred to Joux ; and here it was that 
the passion began which was to do more to colour 
his life than any of its numerous predecessors and 
successors. It may be doubted whether Mirabeau 
could ever have been faithful and constant to any 
one woman ; but what chance he had was destroyed 
by this last separation from his wife. She in her 
turn began to better his example; absence and 
disappointment did their work ; and from this time 
forward their lives, as Carlyle puts it, "flow on- 
wards in two separate streams, his to lose itself 
in frie[htfulest sand-deserts." 


THE Castle of Joux, which is called an "old 
owl's nest, with a few invalids," is among the Jura 
Mountains. " Instead of melancholy main," writes 
Carlyle, " let him now try the melancholy granites 
(still capped with snow at this season), with their 
mists and owlets, and on the whole adjust himself 
as if for permanence or continuance there on a 
pension of 1200 francs, fifty pounds a year, since he 
could not do with five hundred." But close to the 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 95 

fortress of Joux is the small and melancholy border 
town of Pontarlier. The commandant of the fort- 
ress was amiable, loved society, and, although old, 
was smitten with the charms of a Mdme. Sophie 
de Monnier, wife of a high judicial officer. The 
commandant generously allowed Mirabeau to ac- 
company him ; and thus this dangerous guest 
enters into the Monnier household — to its destruc- 
tion and likewise to his own. If the guest was 
dangerous, the household was just in the position 
to provoke his worst form of intervention. M. de 
Monnier was in his seventy-fifth year ; Mdme. de 
Monnier was twenty-one. In the pages of Carlyle, 
as in those of many another English writer, Sophie 
de Monnier is a highly romantic figure ; in the 
pages of the realist and sober French author, whose 
footsteps I am following, most of the glorious clouds 
in which she dwells, fade into merest mirage. First 
let us hear Carlyle's description of this strange 
wooing. What it may want in exactitude it makes 
up for in splendid picturesqueness. 

Fancy what an effect the fiery eloquence of a Mirabeau 
produced in this sombre household : one's young girl-dreams 
incarnated, most unexpectedly, in this wild-glowing mass of 
manhood, though rather ugly ; old Monnier himself gleam- 
ing up into a kind of vitality to hear him ! Or fancy whether 
a sad-heroic face, glancing on you with a thankfulness like to 

become glad-heroic, were not ? Mirabeau felt, by keen 

symptoms, that the sweetest, fatalest incantation was stealing 
over him, which could only lead to the devil for all parties 
interested. He wrote to his wife, entreating, in the name of 
Heaven, that she would come to him : thereby might the 

96 Some Old Love Stories 

sight of his duties fortify him ; he meanwhile would at least 
forbear Pontarlier. The wife " answered by a few icy lines, 
indicating, in a covert way, that she thought me not in my 
wits." He ceases forbearing Pontarlier ; sweeter is it than 
the owl's nest : he returns thither, with sweeter and ever 
sweeter welcome ; and so ! 


So far Carlyle. M. Rousse is much less chari- 
table. Naturally he does not — being a Frenchman 
— find it either unnatural or very shocking that a 
young woman tied to an old husband should love 
this strange young man, nor that he should not 
resist his passion ; but " to obtain full forgiveness," 
he adds, " these forbidden lovers should, more than 
any others, have maintained their delicacy, the 
ideal tenderness and that inviolable fidelity which 
should have kept together for ever two hearts that 
had thus freely given themselves up to each 
other." But, as everybody knows, this is not what 
happened. " Sophie de Monnier, " says our less ro- 
mantic Frenchman, " was not at her first offence." 
And then he goes on to analyze her passion, as 
described in the famous correspondence, and finds 
that it is gross, animal, and vulgar. 

Unfortunately for Sophie de Monnier and Mira- 
beau, our fierce young lover is not the only one 
who has been caught by Sophie's charms. The 
commandant of the Castle of Joux "had been 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 97 

making some pretensions to Sophie himself." " He 
was," writes his successful rival, " but forty or five- 
and-forty years older than I ; my ugliness was not 
greater than his, and I had the advantage of being 
an honest man." All these disadvantages were but 
further reasons for jealousy to the commandant, 
who first anonymously warns the deceived husband 
of the woman, and then writes to the terrible father 
of the man. The result is, that Sophie is threatened 
with all kinds of punishment; is sent to her own 
home at Dijon ; and will be sent later on to a con- 
vent if she repent not of her lawless love. For 
Mirabeau there is even worse punishment in store. 
" I have been lucky enough," writes the old Marquis, 
"to obtain Mont St. Michel, in Normandy. I think 
that prison good, because there is first the castle 
itself, then a ringwork all round the mountains, 
and after that a pretty long passage among the 
sands, where you need guides to avoid being drowned 
in the quicksands." 


Mirabeau never went to Mont St. Michel ; 

but what a valuable thing is this description of this 

prison in giving us an idea of the terrible old man 

who brought him into being. Mirabeau and Sophie 

de Monnier resolved that there was nothing for it 

but flight. After innumerable adventures — which 


98 Some Old Love Stones 

sound to us in these days like the echo of an un- 
real and spectral world — with post-chaises, wadings 
of streams, disguises, bailiffs employed by the old 
Marquis — Mirabeau escapes, first to Switzerland. 
One night, Sophie de Monnier, " in man's clothes, 
is scaling the Monnier garden wall at Pontarlier ; is 
crossing the Swiss Marches, wrapped in a cloak of 
darkness, borne on the wings of love and despair ; 
Gabriel Honore, wrapped in the like cloak, borne 
on the like vehicle, is gone with her to Holland — 
thenceforth a broken man " (Carlyle). This adven- 
ture did more, probably, than any other to make 
that public reputation for outrageous immorality, 
and — a perhaps more formidable offence in French 
eyes — for defiance of the convenances, which, later 
on, was to stand as a high, dark wall, not merely 
between Mirabeau and honour, but between France 
and her possible saviour. Legal action was taken. 
Mirabeau, in his absence, was condemned for 
abduction and robbery, and a paper effigy of him 
was beheaded. 


ALL these, and many other things, one can for- 
get and forgive in Mirabeau during these days 
when he and Sophie de Monnier lived in Holland 
together. They dwelt in cheap and small rooms 
in an old house in Amsterdam, and for nearly a 
year they knew all the woes and all the delight of 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 99 

love, with hunger, pursuit, separation, and perchance 
death, ever ready to knock at the door. It is a 
period which helped to make, as also to destroy, 
Mirabeau. He had to earn bread, and to earn it 
by means then, even more than now, among the 
hardest, most precarious, most trying that man 
can know : for he was a Grub Street hack. His 
industry and his versatility were almost incredible. 
He translated and produced pamphlets, books, and 
learned political treatises, and a questionable erotic 
collection ; he turned his hand to everything and 
anything which his hard Dutch taskmasters asked 
him to try. Sophie is equally heroic. She " sews 
and scours beside him with her soft fingers, not 
grudging it," saith Carlyle. 

There are few passages in Carlyle more beautiful 
than the page which tells the story of this period 
in Mirabeau's life. I have given one passage ; let 
me quote another for a reason other than my 
immediate work of borrowing materials to make a 
complete picture of Mirabeau — 

The wild man and his beautiful, sad-heroic woman lived 
out their romance of reality, as well as was to be expected. 
Hot tempers go not always softly together ; neither did the 
course of true love, either in wedlock or in elopement, ever 
run smooth. . . With quarrel and reconcilement, tears and 
heart-effusion ; sharp tropical squalls, and also the gorgeous 
effulgence and exuberance of genial tropical weather. It was 
like a little Paphos islet in the middle of blackness ; the very 
danger and despair that environed it made the islet blissful — 
even as in virtue of death, life to the fretfulest becomes 
tolerable, becomes sweet, death being so nigh. At any hour 

ioo Some Old Love Stories 

might not king's exempt or other dread alguazil knock 
at our garret establishment, here "in the Kalbestrand, at 
Lequesne the tailor's," and dissolve it? Gabriel toils for 
Dutch booksellers, bearing their heavy load ; translating 
Watson's Philip II. j doing endless Gibeonite work : earning, 
however, his gold louis a day. 

And then comes the passage I have quoted 
already, " Sophie sews and scours with her soft 
hands," and so on. Can you not read between the 
lines of this passage and see another household 
than Mirabeau's and Sophie de Monnier's described 
by it ? The mighty Scotchman, who writes these 
lines, is also at the stage of his life when the book- 
seller can demand his hack work with less wage, 
perchance, than even the single louis a day. There 
is another couple, too, of which it could be said 
that " hot tempers go not always softly together ! " 
And Carlyle is separated but by a wall from 
another, and in outward, though perhaps not in 
inner, life, very different being from Sophie — whose 
" soft fingers " have to sew and scour. Can you 
not fancy Carlyle blotting his manuscript with a 
tear as he writes these lines, half whose gloom 
doubtless comes from his own personal experi- 
ences ? And, after all, which household was the 
more miserable ? Give me for choice the life of 
Mirabeau and his Sophie, with all its misery then ; 
its final rupture ; its tragic endings to both — rather 
than the long, silent, dismal struggle between 
Carlyle and his wife — between both and vengeful 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 101 

Nature, which in the case of Mrs. Carlyle had to 
end in a death as sudden as that of Sophie de 


" Ah ! at the end of some eight months . . . 
enter the alguazil," says Carlyle. The fugitives 
had been betrayed ; the Dutch Government refused 
to protect their right of asylum against a father's 
decrees, backed by the sign-manual of the King ; 
and " Gabriel Honore shall be carried this way, 
Sophie that" — though at this moment Sophie is 
about to become a mother. Mirabeau is taken to 
the prison of Vincennes, Sophie to a inaison de 

There (writes M. Rousse), some months later, Sophie de 
Monnier was confined of a daughter. Soon this child, whom 
she had scarcely seen, died far away from her ; and with the 
child departed her last joy, her last source of pride in the 

It had been conceded by the agent of the old 
Marquis — in face of the possibility of the suicide of 
Sophie de Monnier — that she should be allowed to 
correspond with Mirabeau. This correspondence, 
which was preserved by Lenoir, the Governor of 
Vincennes, was discovered in 1792, and was pub- 
lished to the world. It lifts the veil off things 
which had better remain hidden — has produced 
various impressions on various minds. The worst 

102 Some Old Love Stories 

thing that can be said of it is that it has become 
the favourite of prurient minds. If ever thou art 
tempted, young writer, to outrage the sanctities, 
remember that no loftiness of purpose will save you 
from the patronage of Holywell Street ; think of 
that, and pause ! 


THE subsequent history of this historic love is 
unutterably sad — sadder for the woman than for 
the man ; but for him sad too — perhaps more 
so than he ever was able to appreciate. When 
Mirabeau was released he was in no hurry to rush 
to Sophie's arms. 

At the end of some months (writes M. Rousse), at his own 
hour, at his own convenience, and after he had already 
entered on negotiations for a reconciliation with his wife, he 
went to see Mdme. de Monnier at Sien. Some nights of 
passion destroyed what had remained of the love that had 
disturbed his brain for four years— a love which, in spite of 
all his displays of tenderness, had probably not penetrated 
very deeply into his heart. 

So far our realistic and prosaic Frenchman. 
Compare the fire, the poetry, the real pathos of 
Carlyle's lurid pen — 

After a space of years, these two lovers, wrenched asunder 
in Holland, and allowed to correspond that they might not 
poison themselves, met again : it was under cloud of night ; 
in Sophie's apartment, in the country ; Mirabeau, "disguised 
as a porter," had come thither from a considerable distance. 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 103 

And they flew into each other's arms ; to weep their child 
dead, their long unspeakable woes? Not at all. They 
stood, arms stretched oratorically, calling one another to 
account for causes of jealousy ; grew always louder, arms set 
a-kimbo ; and parted quite loud, never to meet more on earth. 

From this time forward all is descent for Sophie — 
as it is indeed for most women who have staked 
much on a great love — and lost. She sought con- 
solation in other adventures, and, finally, succeeded 
in finding an affection that promised real love and 
true tenderness. She had become at last free from 
that wretched old creature who had destroyed her 
life ; and she was about to be married. But her 
ill-luck pursued her ; and then she resolved to be 
done with it all. By September 1789, Mirabeau 
had left far behind him Sophie and lettres de cachet, 
hunger, obscurity, and proscription ; and was well 
started in the blazing glory of the greatest man of 
France. On the night of the ninth of the same 
month in the same year, Sophie, tied by her own 
hands to a sofa — lest weakness should intervene at 
the last hour and stretch her still longer on the 
rac k — was suffocating under the fumes of a pan of 
charcoal. What Mirabeau might have said in 
extenuation of his desertion of her, who knows ? 
The observation is trite — I have made it myself 
already in this volume — that the only persons who 
know the real relations between a man and a 
woman are they themselves ; and therefore no 
man or woman with any sense or experience ever 

104 Some Old Love Stories 

ventures to express a confident opinion of any 
story of love and separation. The terrible contrast 
between the fate of Mirabeau and Sophie de 
Monnier lies deeper than their own fate or char- 
acters, their virtues or faults ; it lies in that attitude 
of the two sexes to each other which makes every 
such struggle between man and woman bound to end 
in such disastrous differences between the fate of 
the two. I pass from the strange and touching 
figure of this hapless and erring woman with the 
observation that she seems to have belonged to 
that race of woman which is foredoomed. Intense 
sensibility, a fierce greed for love, and a capacity 
for desperate resolves — it is a heritage which, when 
born with a woman, is almost certain to lead her 
to black destruction. And it is only the worship- 
pers of mere Pharisaic cant who do not know that 
in such natures it is the good, quite as much as 
the evil, which leads to the disasters. Love and 
politics have this quality in common — generosity 
is their most destructive quality. 


MEANTIME let us look at Mirabeau in Vin- 
cennes, through the inspired eyes of Carlyle — 

Conceive the giant Mirabeau locked fast, then, in Doubting- 
castle of Vincennes ; his hot soul surging up, wildly breaking 
itself against cold obstruction ; the voice of his despair 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 105 

reverberated on him by dead stone walls. Fallen in the eyes 
of the world, the ambitious, haughty man ; his fair life-hopes 
from without all spoiled and become foul ashes : and from 
within — what he has done, what he has parted with and 
««done ! Deaf as Destiny is a Rhadamanthine father ; in- 
accessible even to the attempt at pleading. Heavy doors 
have slammed to, their bolts growling Woe to thee ! Great 
Paris sends eastward its daily multitudinous hum ; in the 
evening sun thou seest its weathercocks glitter, its old grim 
towers and fuliginous life-breath all gilded : and thou ? — Neither 
evening nor morning, nor change of day nor season, brings 
deliverance. Forgotten of Earth ; not too hopefully remem- 
bered of Heaven ! No passionate Pater-Peccavi can move 
an old Marquis ; deaf he as Destiny. Thou must sit there. — 
For forty-two months, by the great Zodiacal Horologe ! The 
heir of the Riquettis, sinful, and yet more sinned against, has 
worn out his wardrobe ; complains that his clothes get 
looped and windowed, insufficient against the weather. His 
eye-sight is failing ; the family disorder, nephritis, afflicts 
him ; the doctors declare horse exercise essential to preserve 
life. Within the walls, then ! answers the old Marquis. 
Count de Mirabeau " rides in the garden of forty paces," 
with quick turns, hamperedly, overlooked by donjons and 
high stone barriers. 

But Mirabeau was not idle. " In Holland," as 
M. Rousse puts it, " he wrote to live ; in Vincennes 
he wrote that he might not die." It is astonishing 
how much he managed to produce in this period. 
He translated Tibullus, Tacitus, Boccaccio, wrote 
an essay on Elegies, a classical tragedy, a light 
comedy, a history of Philip II., an essay on 
Toleration, a memorial on Lettres de Cachet — to 
say nothing of a number of works very much 
after the style of Voltaire in his worst mood. 
Even more remarkable than these are the memorials 

io6 Some Old Love Stories 

which at frequent intervals he sends to his father in 
order to obtain his release — 

Several are chef d^ceuvres of reasoning (writes M. Rousse), 
and passion, and eloquence. I have heard the speeches of 
many advocates in my lifetime, and know few which would 
read so strong, so able, and so cutting, especially so emphatic, 
in spite of the over-emphasis, which is the main fault of all 
the writings of this time. They are the work of an incom- 
parable advocate pleading a cause in which his life is at stake. 
They re-echo the cry of the flesh which suffers, of the intelli- 
gence which has been stifled, of a soul which, feeling that it 
is little by little becoming degraded and debased, rises up 
under the hand of the gaoler and bounds towards liberty. 

In addition, there are, of course, the letters to 
Sophie ; and these letters contain something more 
important than the mere exuberances of passion. 
There are constant outbursts of that vivid, restless, 
mobile mind. 

In these disordered outbursts (says M. Rousse) of an in- 
timacy which knew no reticence one can see all that Mirabeau 
then was, what he believed, what he felt, what he thought on 
everything — as to the affairs of this world and of the next. 


And then M. Rousse gives us a glimpse into 
Mirabeau's spiritual faith, which we shall have 
reason to remember by and by — 

What did he believe? Nothing. He is a thorough 

Materialist— without noise, without violence, without bravado. 

. . The Church and the Chapel, the Talmud and the Koran, 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 107 

all are one to him. " I shall never have a quarrel with any- 
body on a subject of such little importance. He who believes 
in nothing can submit to anything for the sake of quietness, 
as long as they ask nothing of him but mummeries, which do 
no harm or good to anybody." And elsewhere he says — " At 
the moment when we end, all our being ends with us." 

It is characteristic of Mirabeau — of his versatility, 
his dramatic adaptiveness, and his want of scruple 
— that he who had written to Sophie that " all ends 
with us," should have composed a sermon on 
" The Immortality of the Soul " for a clergyman 
of scanty eloquence ! 

Finally, from these letters it is worth extracting 
a passage which gives his own estimate of himself, 
and which forecasts his future — 

As for myself, I was born with the germ of military talent, 
some latent, much audacity, and an energetic soul. With all 
that one finds one's place. I was told not very long ago that 
I was born to play a part. Yes ; I was born for that, and 
undoubtedly I know that better a great deal than those who 
know of me only the rough surface of a fiery young man who 
to-day is rearing against misfortune. But they did not want 
me when I wanted them. Well, then, let them go to the 
devil ! I say to them all, they do not know the heart they are 
tearing to pieces in the man they despised, and that they will 
never know his value. 

At the end of forty-two months his release 
came. His lengthened imprisonment undoubtedly 
helped to bring about his early death, and yet 
there are plenty who maintain that it was the one 
chance of his safety from even earlier and more 
disastrous destruction. 

io8 Some Old Love Stories 


The reasons which produced Mirabeau's release 
were not his eloquent pleadings or pathetic ap- 
peals. The race of Mirabeau was threatened with 
extinction, and the old Marquis wanted a grand- 
son. Mirabeau undertook to obtain a ready- 
pardon from his wife, but he counted without 
that lady. She had been separated from him 
for nine years, had enjoyed herself in the interval, 
and had no desire whatsoever for a renewal of the 
relationship. To his unutterable astonishment, 
Mirabeau found that he had to fight for his wife. 
Instead of being moved by his entreaties and 
his threats, she calmly demanded a judicial 

Little though he knew it, this unexpected 
action on the part of his wife was to lay the 
foundation of Mirabeau's political fortunes. He 
resolved to fight the case himself. He had had 
within him all his life an internal fire that urged 
him on to public action and to public speech — the 
fire of qualities which he knew so well lay within 
him, and which he had so long and so vainly sought 
to bring out before the world. Instead of perform- 
ing on the grand stage before an admiring world, 
all he had done hitherto was mere wildness and 
disgrace and squalid adventure. But here at last 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 109 

he had a stage and a play and an audience. It is 

characteristic of the man that he does not heed 

the fact that he has to face a very cyclone of 

attack and of denunciations, of which the fiercest 

came from letters written by his terrible father in 

the days when they were at war — that father who 

had described him " as a finished ruffian who ought 

to be removed even from the memory of mankind." 

In fact, the whole case is so terrible — both on the 

one side and on the other — that it was only 

Mirabeau who could have entered into and even 

joyed in it. 

If one (writes M. Rousse) would know in a single case 
all the ignominious things which can be revealed to the 
public when the story is told of a couple at war with each 
other, and of a divided family, he need only read the reports 
of this case. It is one of those domestic dramas which usually 
forecast the end of a reign, and make people even expect the 
end of the world. 

It is also characteristic of Mirabeau's methods 
that he borrows from all quarters, and in one 
speech he has the truly sublime audacity to interpo- 
late in the midst of this odious and squalid family 
quarrel a slightly-altered passage from Bossuet's 
sermon on a nun's taking the veil ! 

Mirabeau lost his case. How could any court 
ask a woman to live with a man on whom his own 
father had pronounced such judgments? But he 
gained a reputation for oratory, and for the first 
time thoroughly knew and enjoyed his own powers 
of speech and influence over multitudes. 

iio Some Old Love Stories 

The sound of him (quoth Carlyle) is spread over France 
and over the world ; English travellers, high foreign lordships, 
turning aside to Aix ; and " multitudes gathered even on the 
roofs " to hear him, the court-house being crammed to burst- 
ing ! Demosthenic fire and pathos ; penitent husband 
calling for forgiveness and restitution — " ce n'est quhin 
claquedents ct tin fol" rays forth the old Marquis from the 
chimney-nook ; " a mere clatter-teeth and madman ! " 


MlRABEAU has not yet — will not for many years 
— discover his final halting-ground. The defeat 
of his attempt to get back his wife severs his con- 
nection with the class to which he had been born, 
and at the same time has first given him a taste of 
that popularity for which he longs. He has formed 
a new connection, this time with a Mdme. Nehra, 
a woman who seems to have a more beneficent 
influence than any who has yet touched him. 
With her he passes into England, and for a while 
mingles with the Whig leaders, visits the House of 
Commons, and, among others, is the close friend 
of the virtuous and excellent Romilly. It is note- 
worthy that Romilly forms a high opinion of him, 
thinks he is a sincere patriot, and, above all things, 
believes that these stories of his private immorality 
are grossly exaggerated. Next we find him in 
Paris writing pamphlets on all kinds of subjects. 
Then after a while he obtains a sort of informal 
mission to Germany, makes the acquaintance of 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 1 1 1 

Frederick the Great, and publishes an able work, 
partly stolen, on German institutions. It is a time 
of intense activity, of wanderings, of innumerable 
publications, and above all, of constant want. 

Much of all this work is merest drudgery, the 
veriest hack-work, but it will all tell by and by. It 
makes him acquainted with all the subjects of 
political interest to which the public mind is attracted 
in the seething period just before the States-General ; 
it gives him extraordinary readiness — for often he 
writes a treatise in a week, a pamphlet in a night. 
Above all, it helps to keep him constantly before 
the public eye. 

This is the dream which always besets him now 
— the dream of playing a great public part. He 
is always ready to take advantage of every means 
that can help him forward in this ambition, as 
though he belonged to our own day of universal 
publicity and ubiquitous newspapers. " He cannot 
let his name rest unmentioned for even one week," 
growls the old Marquis. 

And so, Mirabeau prepares for the last great epoch 
of his life. 


ONCE again in his lifetime Mirabeau is confronted 
by a check, which ultimately is to his advantage. 
He tries to obtain admission to the States-General 
as a member of the nobility. But Mirabeaus' 

1 1 2 Some Old Love Stories 

democratic sentiments, his noisy and restless talent 
— above all, his evil record — closed the doors of his 
class against him. 

At once he turns to that meridional region of 
France, to which he belongs as much by disposition 
as by talent. He seeks a seat in Marseilles and 
Aix at the same time, and at once he is caught in 
a whirlwind of popular favour. For the populace, 
as says M. Rousse, are captivated by 

this nobleman, who assumes plebeian manners with such 
a grand air ; this Provencal, who is so like Provence ; 
who swears with the porters, talk patois with the farmer, and 
can plead, at the same time, in classic French better than 
the Crown Solicitor. 

And his eloquence is just of the kind which suits 
them. He addresses the shivering and super- 
annuated nobility as though they were the criminal 
and virile aristocrats of Rome — 

In all countries, and in all ages (he cries out) aristocrats 
have implacably persecuted the friends of the people. . . . 
Thus perished the last of the Gracchi by the hands of the 
aristocrats. But, when struck by his death-blow, he threw 
his ashes to Heaven, calling upon the avenging gods, and 
from those ashes sprang Marius— Marius less illustrious from 
exterminating the Cimbrians than from having put down the 
power of the aristocracy in Rome. 

This was the kind of thing to enrapture the 
crowd beginning to dream of an auroral dawn of 
liberty ; and thus when Mirabeau was elected, it 
was in the midst "of a delirious joy, of wild 
popular outbursts, of general illuminations, of 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 113 

cavalcades, ovations, dances, and riots." And so 
our declassed aristocrat is transformed into a 
tribune of the people. 

And now, at last, our poor Mirabeau has "ar- 
rived." All the mud, the sufferings, the terrible 
bufferings of fate, have been left behind ; all the 
mad, blind strivings of all those years have at 
last found their end. Who can help sympathizing 
with Carlyle's peal of sympathetic joy ? — he also 
had his dreary pilgrimage over sharp-fiinted 
heights before he reached the top of the hill — as 
he celebrates this tardy victory — 

At last ! Does not the benevolent reader, though never 
so unambitious, sympathize a little with this poorer brother 
mortal in such a case ? Victory is always joyful ; but to 
think of such a man, in the hour when, after twelve Hercules' 
labours, he does finally triumph ! So long he fought with 
the many-headed coil of Lernean serpents ; and, panting, 
wrestled and wrang with it for life or death — forty long, stern 
years ; and now he has it under his heel ! The mountain-tops 
are scaled ; where the man climbed, on sharp flinty precipices, 
slippery, abysmal ; in darkness, seen by no kind eye — amid 
the blood of dragons ; and the heart, many times, was like 
to fail within him, in his loneliness, in his extreme need : yet 
he climbed, and climbed, glueing his footsteps in his blood ; 
and now, behold, Hyperion-like he has scaled it, and on the 
summit shakes his glittering shafts of war ! What a scene 
and new kingdom for him ; all bathed in auroral radiance of 
Hope ; far-stretching, solemn, joyful. What wild Memnon's 
music, from the depths of Nature, comes toning through the 
soul raised suddenly out of strangling death into victory and 
life ! The very bystander, we think, might weep, with this 
Mirabeau, tears of joy. 

ii4 Some Old Love Stories 


THE States-General opened their momentous 
history on the morning of May 4, 1789, when all 
of the three orders of which they were composed 
walked in procession to the great church of St. 
Louis at Versailles, where they were to hear Mass 
and listen to a sermon from the Bishop of Nancy. 
The procession was watched from a window by 
the woman whom we know as Mdme. de Stael ; and 
who that day must have been especially happy, 
for it was a day of triumph for Necker, her father 
— the Minister to whom, at that moment, all the 
oppressed and starving people of France looked 
for reform, relief — for liberty and for bread ; and 
thus she describes Mirabeau's outward seeming at 
this tremendous moment — 

Among these nobles who had been deputed to the Third 
Estate, above all others, the Comte de Mirabeau. The 
opinion men had of his genius was singularly augmented by 
the fear entertained of his immorality ; and yet it was this 
very immorality which straitened the influence his astonishing 
faculties were to secure him. You could not but look long at 
this man, when once you had noticed him ; his immense black 
head of hair distinguished him among them all ; you would 
have said his force depended on it, like that of Samson ; his 
face borrowed new expression from its very ugliness ; his 
whole person gave you the idea of an irregular power, but a 
power such as you would figure in a Tribune of the People. 

This is the language of dislike and distrust ; 
but it is no more than an echo of the universal 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 115 

feeling towards Mirabeau at this moment. It is a 
heritage of all those wild and disorderly scenes 
through which we have followed him, that in the 
Assembly he is at first placed in Coventry. On 
this morning of May 4, none of his fellow-deputies 
cared to be seen in his company ; and it is recorded 
that when his name was first read out in the lists, 
there was a burst of hisses — so widespread and 
so profound was the belief in his utter want of 
decency and principle. At every point his bad 
past was rising up in judgment against him. 
Wherever he turned it stood as a dead, dark, 
unscalable wall before him. It is no wonder that 
he often shed bitter tears — as his secretaries, to 
whom he revealed the nudity of his soul, record — 
when he spoke of these follies of his youth as so 
destructive both to France and to him. 

And assuredly it is calculated to intensify one's 
idea of his energy, courage, tenacity, and native 
goodness of heart that he fought against all this 
with good-humour, and even with dignity ; and it 
likewise helps us to form an idea of the command- 
ing power of the man, that he was able, amid all 
those keen, brilliant, and ardent intellects, to 
establish his supremacy in so short a time. 

1 1 6 Some Old Love Stories 


In addition to his natural talents, Mirabeau had 
come to this Assembly with a far better preparation 
than any of his colleagues. All these years of Grub 
Street drudgery, of incessant labour in prisons, of 
pamphlets and books between his release from 
Vincennes and the opening of the States-General— 
all these years had been devoted to the discussion 
of the very questions which the States-General — 
had now to confront, so that, as M. Rousse says— 
" Mirabeau had thought out everything he was 
going to say, had written all he was going to speak, 
had announced everything he was going to do." 
One day he is charged with inconsistency in the 
Assembly ; he replies that " thirty volumes " were 
the proof of the inflexible consistency of his 
opinions — to such gigantic proportions had the 
productions of his pen reached. 

Moreover, he is a born orator, and especially for 
such an Assembly as this. It has been seen that 
while he was still a child he loved to appear on the 
stage, and that when he was a boy at school he 
calmly pronounces a discourse before distinguished 
visitors ; that he rushes to the law-courts, and does 
not shrink before the most loathsome details of 
a domestic tragedy, because he gets the oppor- 
tunity of airing his eloquence. And though he 
has, perforce, been a writer all these years, he writes 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier t t 7 

like an orator. " Even his most private letters," 
says M. Rousse, "are speeches." 

The words seem to fall from his pen as if they fell from 
his lips ; an invisible gesture accompanies them. He has 
before him an audience, an adversary whom he combats, or 
a friend who applauds him. ... He enlivens everything— 
he makes everything live under his pen, everything has 
movement, natural and vivid rhetoric. He creates person- 
ages and makes them appear on the scene. In order to 
describe the most private events of his life he invents dia- 
logues in which truth and fable are mingled . . . he composes 
pleadings for Mdme. de Monnier against her husband — 
speeches, replies, exordiums, perorations, everything is there. 
At Manosque or Marseilles, in the old house at Amsterdam, 
or in the keep at Vincennes, his desk is a tribune over which 
he bends — the bar of a court on which he leans. Like an 
actor rehearsing his part, he walks with slow steps up and 
down his room : stopping now and then, sitting clown, rising 
again, again stopping to write. If a word pleases him he 
repeats it, listens to it, prolongs its echo. If he has a mirror 
before him he looks at himself in it without laughing, for he 
does not know this fear of himself or of others which em- 
barrasses timid people. Like the people of his region, he has 
no knowledge of what is meant by exaggeration, no sense of 
the ridiculous. It has never occurred to him that his letter 
to the lover of his wife could appear ridiculous to anybody, 
or that when he assaulted a man with a parasol in the public 
highway he would be a subject of laughter to everybody. 
Everything that concerns him assumes an air of importance 
and magnificence. Thus he cannot help revealing himself, 
giving everything which is in his head or his heart. 

Finally, he has all the physical attributes which 
make the orator. He has a voice, strong, clear, 
and persuasive ; and his gestures are ready. Even 
his physical defects are advantageous. Those large 
and somewhat deformed features are striking when 

1 1 8 Some Old Love Stories 

seen in the tribune and from a distance. Just as 
a certain type of pretty woman looks ugly on the 
stage, and a certain type of ugly woman looks 
beautiful, Mirabeau has the kind of features which 
are splendid and impressive in the tribune of a 
huge hall and a vast assembly. 


And our poor Mirabeau has resolved, above all 
things, that he will succeed. On the very first day 
when the States-General meet, he has prepared a 
speech, but he is dodged out of the opportunity of 
delivering it. His friends had prepared for the 
same day a triumphant entry ; but in face of those 
hisses, those shrinking figures all around, they have 
to keep a shamed silence. But Mirabeau is not at 
the end of his resources. Now, as often before in 
the course of his desperate struggles with fortune, 
he brings his pen to the aid of his tongue. There 
were few journals in those days, and they were not 
good. Mirabeau produced a periodical which pro- 
fessed to give an account of the proceedings of the 
States-General, and which was mainly occupied 
with full reports of his own speeches, of his motives, 
of his votes, and with encomiums upon his proceed- 
ings. " Deputy, doubling the part of journalist — 
thus he had anticipated by one hundred years one 
of the most dangerous movements of politics," says 

Mirabeau and Sophie, de. Monnier 119 

M. Rousse. And now the Court came to Mirabeau's 
aid. An edict was published for the suppression 
of his journal ; the edict was evaded, amid the 
tumultuous applause of all the opponents of the 
Court. This was Mirabeau's first success. The 
Deputies who had avoided him now began to court 
him ; already he had begun to be looked upon as 
one of the heads of the new Assembly. 

On June 23 an even greater opportunity presented 
itself; and Mirabeau's extraordinary readiness — 
his wit, audacity, and resolve to place himself in 
front — gave him the power to take advantage of 
the opportunity. A few words are necessary to 
explain the scene. When the States-General met, 
they consisted, as everybody knows, of three Orders 
— the Nobility, the Clergy, and the Third Estate — 
representatives of the bourgeoisie. At once a ques- 
tion of tremendous moment arose. Would the 
States-General vote by Orders or by head ? It 
was a question which had been debated for many a 
long day before the States-General had assembled ; 
it was discussed among ten thousand other 
subjects by Mirabeau's old father. Underneath 
that question, as will be at once seen, lay the issue 
whether France was or was not to have a truly 
representative government, for if the vote were to 
be taken by Orders, then the Third Estate — who 
alone were in any sense representative of the people 
— would be powerless ; they would be but one 
Order out of three : and in the other two Orders 

120 Some Old Love Stories 

reaction, of course, would have a permanent 
majority. The battle was fought out for months, 
after a curious, complicated fashion. The Third 
Estate met in one hall, the other Orders in others. 
There were messages, phantasmal meetings which 
refused to do any business — a thousand and one 
battles apparently over the merest forms — with 
this substratum underneath it all, that the Third 
Estate obstinately refused to recognize the separate 
existence of the other Orders. 


IN this struggle the King adopted that irresolute 
and ever-changing attitude which was the despair 
of everybody around him, including his wife, and 
which ultimately led him and her to the guillotine. 
The contest after a while developed into the small 
question of finding a place wherein the Third 
Estate could meet. On the morning of June 20 it 
is announced that the King is going to hold a 
meeting on the 23rd, in the Salle des Menus 
Plaisirs — the hall in which the Third Order had 
been in the habit of meeting ; and any meeting 
of the Third Estate is forbidden until that day. 
Accordingly, when the Third Estate comes on the 
morning of the 20th to its hall, it finds it closed, 
occupied by a section of Royal body-guards, and 
by carpenters who are preparing the platform on 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier t 2 1 

which the King is to sit at the meeting he is going 
to hold. This outrage on the Deputies provoked 
an outburst of feeling, and led to the first and 
greatest deed in the march towards revolution. 
After much wild discussion and many frantic 
councils, Dr. Guillotine remembered that there was 
a tennis-court in the Rue St. Francois in Versailles, 
and " thither," as Carlyle puts it, " in long-drawn 
files, hoarse jingling, like cranes on wing, the 
Commons Deputies angrily wend." 

Strange sight was this in the Rue St. Francois, Vieux 
Versailles — goes on Carlyle. A naked Tennis-Court, as 
the pictures of that time still give it : four walls, naked, 
except aloft some poor wooden penthouse, or roofed spec- 
tators' gallery, hanging round them — on the floor, not now 
an idle teeheeing, a snapping of balls and rackets ; but the 
bellowing din of an indignant National Representation, 
scandalously exiled hither ! However, a cloud of witnesses 
looks down on them, from wooden penthouse, from wall-top, 
from adjoining roof, and chimney ; rolls towards them from 
all quarters, with passionate-spoken blessings. Some table 
can be procured to write on ; some chair, if not to sit on, 
then to stand on. The Secretaries undo their tapes ; Bailly 
has constituted the Assembly. 

Experienced Monnier, not wholly new to such things in 
Parliamentary revolts which he has seen or heard of, thinks 
that it were well, in these lamentable threatening circum- 
stances, to unite themselves by an Oath — universal acclama- 
tion, as from smouldering bosoms getting vent. The oath is 
re-enacted, pronounced aloud by President Bailly — and, 
indeed, in such a sonorous tone, that the cloud of witnesses, 
even outdoors, hear it, and bellow response to it. Six hun- 
dred right hands rise with President Bailly's to take God 
above to witness that they will not separate for man below, 
but will meet in all places, under all circumstances, whereso- 
ever two or three can get together, till they have made the 

122 Some Old Love Stories 

Constitution. Make the Constitution, friends ! That is a 
long task. Six hundred hands, meanwhile, will sign as they 
have sworn ; six hundred save one; one Loyalist Abdiel, still 
visible by this sole light-point, and nameable, poor " M. 
Martin d'Auch, from Castelnaudary, in Languedoc.' ; At four 
o'clock the signatures are all appended, new meeting is fixed 
for Monday morning earlier than the hour of the Royal 


MONDAY, June 23, for which the Royal sitting 
had been fixed, came at last, and by this time 
the Third Estate had been strengthened by the 
accession of one hundred and forty-nine mem- 
bers of the Order of the Clergy— some bishops 
among the number — who resolved to throw in 
their lot with them. The temper of the Third 
Estate had also been roused by the fact that it 
had been kept waiting in a bitter rain, while the 
nobility and the friends of the Court had been 
allowed to enter early and by privileged ways. 
And then the poor King announces that he has 
taken up sides against the Third Estate, and that 
the Three Orders shall vote separately. And then , 
the King, the Order of the Nobility, the majority 
of the Order of the Clergy " file out, as if the whole 
matter were satisfactorily completed." And now 
came Mirabeau's great opportunity — I borrow from 
Carlyle again. 

These file out through grim-silent seas of people. Only 
the Commons Deputies file not out, but stand there in gloomy 

Mirabeau and Sophie, de Monnier 123 

silence, uncertain what they shall do. One man of them is 
certain ; one man of them discerns and dares ! It is now 
that King Mirabeau starts to the Tribune, and lifts up his 
lion voice. Verily a word in season : for, in such scenes, the 
moment is the mother of ages ! Had not Gabriel Honore" 
been there — one can well fancy how the Commons Deputies, 
affrighted at the perils which now yawned dim all round 
them, and waxing even paler in each other's paleness, might 
very naturally, one after one, have glided off, and the whole 
course of European history have been different ! 

But he is there. List to the brool of that royal forest 
voice ; sorrowful, low, fast swelling to a roar ! Eyes kindle 
at the glance of his eye. National deputies were missioned 
by a Nation ; they have sworn an oath ; they — but lo ! while 
the lion's voice roars loudest what apparition is this ? Ap- 
parition of Mercurius de Breze", muttering somewhat ! — 
" Speak out," cry several.—" Messieurs," shrills De Bre"ze\ 
repeating himself, " you have heard the King's orders ! " — 
Mirabeau glares on him with fire-flashing face ; shakes the 
black lion's mane. " Yes, monsieur, we have heard what the 
King was advised to say ; and you, who cannot be the inter- 
preter of his orders to the States-General — you who have 
neither place nor right of speech here — you are not the man 
to remind us of it. Go, monsieur, tell those who sent you 
that we are here by the will of the People, and that nothing 
but the force of bayonets shall send us hence ! " And poor 
De Br£ze" shivers forth from the National Assembly ; and 
also (if it be not in one faintest glimmer, months later) finally 
from the page of history. 


FROM this time forward Mirabeau is to be 
regarded as the leader of the National Assembly. 
This position was due to his genuine talent. 
" Where one wants a speaker only," said Lamarck 

124 Some Old Love Stories 

— of whom more by and by — " there is plenty of 
talent in this Assembly; but where you want 
some thought, then you are without a rival." On 
every occasion when the Assembly is in a difficulty 
he knows by instinct — without the necessity even 
of reflection — what is the right thing to do. And 
there is also in him what so few of the other mem- 
bers of the Assembly had, a rational and inde- 
structible love of free institutions with a hatred of 
anarchy, and a very clear idea of what should be 
the limits of parliamentary and executive powers. 

It is perhaps a daring thing to say it, but I 
believe that some of Mirabeau's freedom from the 
violent and sanguinary illusions of his colleagues, 
was due to those very mistakes of his life which 
weigh so heavily on his memory, and which even 
then stood so much between him and his public 
usefulness. In all that career of mad and varied 
passions he had learned to probe human nature to 
its depths ; and he was incapable of that dream of 
Paradises — a new world and angelic beings — which 
first led to the wild and mad travesties of the 
Revolution, and then to its wholesale massacres. 
The satiety of his senses was an illuminant to his 
brain and judgment. 

And Mirabeau sees clearly what is coming — he, 
perhaps, almost alone of all the members of that 
Assembly. He is a statesman above all things ; 
he believes in the maintenance of the monarchy ; 
he has a profound, and, as it turned out, a just 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 125 

contempt for the political abilities of that Assembly; 
and, in short, he sees that the one thing to save 
the monarchy and the country is a strong Ministry. 
Here, again, as throughout his whole career, he is 
baffled in his highest and wisest purposes by the 
meanest obstacles. Necker is incompetent. Solid, 
respectable, in face of this revolution which is 
beating against the walls of the Palace and all the 
old landmarks, he is about as effective as the 
smallest bank clerk to control a financial crash. 
This is the opinion which Mirabeau honestly holds 
of Necker, an opinion which subsequent events 
and the judgment of posterity have confirmed ; 
but, nevertheless, Mirabeau does not allow per- 
sonal predilections to stand between him and his 
political duty, and he accepts the proposal to 
meet Necker. But Necker is not equal to the 
situation ; he receives Mirabeau as if he were 
a hard-driven trader entering a bank parlour. 
" What proposal have you to make to me ?" asks 
Necker." " To bid you good-day," replies Mira- 
beau, justly furious : and he leaves him there. 


SIMILARLY Mirabeau tries his hand on La- 
fayette. Lafayette by this time had reached a 
position of practical omnipotence. The National 
Guard had been brought into existence ; it was 

126 Some Old Love Stories 

the real armed force that governed Paris, and 
Lafayette was its commander-in-chief, its idol, and 
its dictator. Mirabeau sought to make a com- 
bination by which both he and Lafayette should 
take charge of the government of the country, and 
save the King's crown and the country's peace. 
But Lafayette was a self-conceited and a selfish 
prig; he cared more for himself than for the 
country ; and then he raised a high-sniffing nose 
from the heights of his saintly respectability on 
our poor bespattered, licentious, and bankrupt 

Thus from one side to another Mirabeau turns 
in the hope of finding a stable government some- 
where. He even consents to exclude himself from 
the combination ; and suggests list after list of 
names, taken from the men who can be most 
useful to the King and are most formidable against 
him. Again and again he tries to rouse the 
indolent and chattering courtiers to the realities 
of the situation. As early as September 1789, he 
cries out in a conversation he has with a friend 
of the Queen and the Court — "What are these 
people thinking of ? Can they not see the abysses 
which are opening under their feet ? " " On another 
occasion," says one of his biographers, " driven to 
an unusual state of exasperation, he cried out, 
' All is lost ; the King and the Queen will perish 
amid all this, and the mob will kick their corpses.' " 
" He observed," says Lamarck — who is telling the 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 127 

story — " the horror which this phrase caused me. 
' Yes, yes,' he repeated, ' they will kick their 
corpses. You do not fully understand the dangers 
of the situation ; you must let them fully see it.' " 
But all these warnings are apparently in vain ; 
until at last Lamarck interferes, and here we have 
introduced on the scene a personage who is to 
play an important part in the life of Mirabeau and 
in the terrible drama which is opening. But I 
interrupt the story to refer to a final and tragic 
re-appearance from Mirabeau's dead past. 


We have seen how far by this September of 
1789 Mirabeau had got on that giddy and dazzling 
career which had at last opened to him. On 
September 8 in that year M. de Poterat, the 
affianced of Sophie, died ; on the night of the 
same day Sophie killed herself. Doctor Ysabeau, 
who attended her, and had been kind to her, had 
a brother-in-law in the Assembly — a clergyman 
named M. Vallet ; and to him he wrote, asking 
him to break the news to Mirabeau. M. Vallet, 
as a member of the Order of the Clergy, probably 
hated Mirabeau most cordially on moral and 
political grounds ; and he has taken the pains to 
give an account of this mission with the hope of 
inflicting a final stab at Mirabeau's reputation. 
This is what he says — 

128 Some Old Love Stories 

My brother gave me the details of this frightful event, and 
gave me the commission to prepare Mirabeau for it, imagin- 
ing that there should be a sensitive soul in such a body. I, 
who knew him better, did not take such precautions. I went 
and told M. Villiers, who said to me — " What are you going 
to do?" "Nothing," I replied, "but hand him my brother- 
in-law's letter. I shall not even speak to him." I went and 
sat beside him. He knew me well, and hated me accord- 
ingly. He asked what I meant by coming to sit on that 
side of the Assembly. Without replying, I presented the 
letter I had just received from my brother-in-law. He took 
a long time to read it, and I watched him with the greatest 
attention. He got pale and upset now and again, but 
quickly recovered himself and continued the reading. Then 
he sighed, coughed, spat, and ended by a great show of 
firmness. He stood up abruptly, handed me back the 
letter, saluted me, and left the Assembly, where he was 
not seen again for two or three days." 

But, as St. Beuve says, what is meant to wound, 
only heightens Mirabeau's character. As St. Beuve 
well puts it — 

Must not one admire the manner in which this witness, 
blinded by party spirit, at the same moment in which he 
accuses M. Mirabeau of a lack of sensibility, shows us on the 
contrary how troubled and shaken he saw him under the 
blow which he dealt him so mercilessly ? The evidence turns 
against himself. 

And, finally, let us make an end of this episode 
by recalling one of the many signs of the tenderness 
and the strength of the passion that thus ended. 
Mirabeau in his letters to Sophie often talks of 
Gabriel Sophie— such was the name of his poor 
little daughter — the frail and short-lived offspring 
of their passion. There is infinite tenderness in 
one of these letters. 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 129 

My Sophie (writes Mirabeau), you remember that your 
mother once wrote to me asking me to teach you orthography ; 
I don't know how it happened that I neglected such a request. 
Probably there was something that I thought more important. 
Alas ! We now have to leave by all these studies of that old 
time. Let us, then, return to orthography (to please your 
honourable mother) ; but I know of but one means of writing 
correctly, and that is to be conversant with the principles of 
one's native tongue. 

And then, Mirabeau tells of a little treatise 
which he has compiled, and which, in twenty-five 
pages, tells all the essential rules of French gram- 
mar. They will teach Sophie how to spell. This 
picture of the giant teaching this poor ignorant 
little woman how to spell, pathetic as it is, is less 
touching than the allusions to the child which 
follow — 

This memoir is more than sufficient to put you in the way 
of teaching your daughter the principles of the French lan- 
guage. Grammars do not give style, but if Gabriel-Sophie 
has a soul like you she will easily find a Gabriel. He and 
she will love one another as we do, and I guarantee that she 
will write well. It is for her that I have compiled this little 
work, which has cost me both time and trouble. It is for her-, 
I repeat, as I console myself with the thought that you would 
hardly think of consulting a grammar about any word or 
phrase destined for me. Ah ! could art or wit ever teach 
that which your heart knows how to say ? 


The Comte de Lamarck is one of the most 

interesting figures of the Revolution. Born in 

Belgium when the Netherlands were still under 


130 Some Old Love Stories 

Austrian rule, he had entered the service of France 
when he was seventeen, had become colonel by 
hereditary title of one of the foreign regiments; 
fought with distinction in the Indies ; was brave, 
astute, a courtier, and a personal friend of Marie 
Antoinette. Like herself, an Austrian by allegiance ; 
like herself, French by adoption ; unlike some 
others of her friends — and notably the Comte de 
Fersen — with none of the pretensions of a lover, he 
was one of the few people she really trusted. The 
Count de Lamarck had been attracted to Mirabeau 
before the assembly of the States-General, had 
requested to be introduced to him, and finally met 
him at the house of Prince de Poix at Versailles, 
in 1788. There is a curious record of the impression 
which the great tribune made on the courtier — 

On seeing Mirabeau enter . . . M. de Lamarck was much 
struck with his appearance. He had a tall, squarely-built, 
sturdy figure. His head, which in size was beyond the 
ordinary proportions, looked still larger on account of the 
enormous curled and powdered wig he wore. He had on 
a dress-coat, ornamented by remarkably large buttons of 
coloured stones, and the buckles of his shoes were of equal 
dimensions. Indeed, one might notice in all the details of 
his toilette a certain exaggeration of the prevailing fashions 
which the good taste of the courtiers would not allow them to 
be guilty of. Marks of small-pox made his features rather 
unsightly. His eyes had a hidden look, but yet were full of 
fire. When he wished to be extra polite and attentive, he 
became affected, and his introductory remarks were often 
pretentious, and even vulgar, compliments. To put it in a 
nutshell, he neither understood the etiquette nor the language 
of the society in which he moved, so that, although by birth 
quite the equal of those whom he visited, it was easily seen 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 131 

by his manners that he lacked that ease of deportment which 
distinguishes the habitue of good society. 

A little lower down in this same description the 
narrator still more strongly emphasizes the bad 
impression Mirabeau's exterior made, by remarking 
that when M. de Meilhan led the conversation to 
politics and the Administration, all that had struck 
them as " ridiculous " in the exterior of Mirabeau 
was forgotten instantly, and people could only think 
of the abundance and the sagacity of his ideas. 
But, as Sainte-Beuve properly remarks, the courtiers 
were not just critics of Mirabeau's exterior. To 
be observed sympathetically, he required the 
magnitude of the amphitheatre ; and even his dress 
is defended by this astute critic — 

Mirabeau avoided, much more by instinct even than by 
calculation, the fashions of the time — so small, finnikin, and 
scanty. As his father, who knew him, said of him, he had 
"the grand air and pomp of garb in an ill-dressed age." In 
the world of Versailles, he might at first sight appear to be 
devoid of the manners of the great world ; but in Paris and 
in all places where the Court with its little rooms did not set 
the fashion, he seemed in his dress, in his gestures, and in 
his manners — even in his intimate surroundings, a grand 
seigneur of the olden time who dressed himself luxuriously 
and capriciously. He who judged men so keenly by their 
inner nature, knew at the same time that the greater number 
of them judge others by their exteriors and their environment. 
He knew that it was necessary for him to appear glittering 
in the eyes of the people. 

132 Some Old Love Stories 


LAMARCK and Mirabeau did not meet again 
until the Three Orders had united and had formed 
the National Assembly, and then it was Mirabeau 
who made the first approaches. He had already 
reached his place as one of the leaders of the 
popular party, but he took the opportunity of at 
once letting Lamarck know that though he was 
a lover of liberty, he had no desire for anarchy— 
in short, he indicated to him, as to others, that he 
desired an understanding with the Court in its 
interests as much as in his own. And from the 
first he warned Lamarck of the appalling realities 
of the dangers by which the Crown and the King 
and Queen were threatened. I have already quoted 
the frightful expression which shocked Lamarck — 
the expression that the day was coming when the 
mob of Paris would kick the corpses of the King 
and Queen. For months before his death Mirabeau 
kept repeating this terrible phrase— it was the re- 
frain of his speech ; the hideous burden of all his 
thoughts ; and what came after his death proved 
that it was one of the abounding proofs of that 
power of forecast which amounted in him to almost 
a second sight. 

Be it remembered that Mirabeau was perfectly 
consistent in his policy and in his ideas. Over and 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 133 

over again he proclaimed to the National Assembly 
that he was a convinced and determined Monarchist. 
He defended the absolute veto of the King at a 
moment when all Paris was going mad over it, 
going the length of declaring that he would rather 
live in Constantinople than in France, if she had a 
king without such a veto. At the moment when 
Mirabeau was fighting, the group who gathered 
round Robespierre was still impotent ; but it had 
all the promise of its future power ; it had already 
unveiled its ferocity and its fanaticism, and already 
there had been ominous signs of that universal 
popularity which for a time it obtained over Paris. 
But Mirabeau refused to quail before it. One day, 
when he was defending his monarchical principles, 
it shouted aloud in its disgust at his moderation ; 
whereupon he haughtily shouted out, " I command 
silence on these thirty voices." In short, Mirabeau 
showed that, if needs be, he was ready to pay with 
his life for his convictions ; and most people think 
that if he had survived, his would certainly have 
been one of the heads that the knife of the guillotine 
would have severed. 


ALL these things have to be remembered when 
one comes to estimate the next transaction in 
which Mirabeau is engaged. He told the Court 

134 Some Old Love Stories 

plainly that he was ready to act in its interests ; 
foretold the dangers with which it was surrounded 
in language that was startling — as will have been 
seen — to the ears of courtiers ; but, here comes 
the part that has sorely perplexed his biographers — 
he had at the same time to say that in order to be 
effective he must be paid. He had immense debts ; 
his creditors worried him ; and it is recorded that 
sometimes our poor Titan had to pledge his fine 
clothes ; and sometimes even wanted the price of his 
dinner. It will throw some light on the morality 
of the acts with which I am presently to deal, to 
point out that Mirabeau's indebtedness was partly 
due to the fact that the harpy, who published his 
paper, insisted on taking the greater part of the 
profits, and that Mirabeau could not be induced to 
attend to his own private affairs. On July 13, the 
day before the taking of the Bastille — that is to 
say, the day before that general break-up which 
he himself had so plainly foreseen — the grim old 
Marquis — the Friend of Man — had died. Mirabeau 
was his heir ; and in spite of all that had taken 
place, the rent was worth 50,000 livres a year. 
Mirabeau was considered by himself to be hugely 
in debt ; as a matter of fact, he owed about 200,000 
livres — that is to say, about four years' rent of his 
property. It ought not to have required much 
financial genius to have made an arrangement by 
which such a heritage could have relieved Mirabeau 
from at least pressing necessities ; but the splendid 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 135 

fellow refused to leave his place in the National 
Assembly — where everything turned on his tongue, 
adroitness, and courage — and would pay no atten- 
tion to his private affairs. In this respect Mirabeau 
is but a specimen — a common specimen — of public 
men ; a specimen that ought to receive much more 
consideration, perhaps, at the hands of men, and 
especially of biographers, than it usually does. 
The public man who is really absorbed in the work 
of the nation is not only without the time, but 
is without the inclination, to look after his own 
affairs. The mind that is capable of the enthu- 
siasms of humanity is often by its very essence 
incapable of the small and sordid personal cares of 
daily life. But assuredly such enthusiasms are the 
mark, not of a low, but of a lofty nature, and 
political society would be much better employed 
in raising its benefactors and enthusiasts above 
small wants than in complaining that the great 
services bestowed upon it by such minds had 
been given at the expense of the statesman's own 
comfort and own interests. 


HOWEVER, I had better state the case for Mira- 
beau in the language of his latest French bio- 
grapher : he seems to me to put it admirably and 
very fairly — 

136 Some Old Love Stories 

There is in France a man prodigiously superior to every 
other — the only one who holds within his grasp the salvation 
of the state — a man who is strong enough to clear away the 
ruins of the past, and to build an edifice on the new found- 
ations. This unique and essential man must be left all his 
strength and all his liberty. Nothing must embarrass him in 
his progress, nor distract him from his work. His intelligence, 
his genius is all powerful ; but it is necessary that they be 
employed in all their force, without any hindrance. He is 
the great political motor which will do the work if properly 
alimented. Let him have plenty of ease, plenty of material, 
so that, having everything in working order, he may be able 
to produce great results. This predestined saviour of the 
country and the throne is Mirabeau. If he were to ask fifty 
louis from the Count de Lamarck to-day, one thousand louis 
from the Count de Provence to-morrow, should he receive fifty 
thousand livres from Lafayette, and a little later on get a per- 
manent salary from the King, it would not be through avarice, 
nor for his own pleasure ; it would be for the good of his 
country and the service of the state, in order to be able to 
think, speak, and act with full liberty — himself to possess 
and give to an imperilled country all his strength ; these are 
the only grounds on which he wants his debts to be paid. 
For the general interest it is necessary that this great pen- 
sioner of the state be relieved from all embarrassment. He 
must not be left always within hearing of his creditors' 
bells, nor with the threatening letters of his tradesmen con- 
tinually before his eyes; "no subordinate embarrassment 
inconveniencing him — no fox devouring his entrails." . . . 
He does not want to be unreasonable nor avaricious, but 
neither does he want to be duped. This is not enough. As 
he is the only man who can save the kingdom, he must watch 
over all, know all, be everywhere at once ; he must have his 
police whom he can trust, and his private messengers, and his 
twelve spies to give an account hour by hour of the move- 
ments of MM. Lameth, Barnave, Duport, d'Aiguillon, Menou, 
and Pethion. The two agents whom M. de Mirabeau was 
obliged to post in Provence were at this moment paid out of 
his own pocket. All this soon succeeded in crushing him : 
his private affairs are on the verge of ruin, because he has 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 137 

doubled his secret expense to be perfectly at ease. It is only 
just that one should pay his agents, spies, and messengers. 

And then it must be added that our poor Mira- 
beau had weaknesses which also made demands on 
his exchequer. One of the curious facts of the 
days, which immediately preceded the terrible and 
destructive volcano of revolution, is that never was 
the pursuit of pleasure more vehement, reckless, and 
wild. Here is a significant fact mentioned in Mr, 
Morse Stephen's book — 

Gambling-houses sprang up all over Paris, and members 
of both sides of the Assembly — Mirabeau and Cazales alike — 
might be seen losing every penny they possessed at the 
same table. All the other vices seemed to grow in magnitude. 
The theatres were more thronged than ever, and the more 
dissolute the plays the larger were the audiences. 

But though Mirabeau might pursue pleasure 
madly, there is no doubt of the prodigious extent 
of his industry. Nobody has summed up this part 
of his life better than Carlyle. Saith he — 

" If I had not lived with him," says Dumont, " I never 
should have known what a man can make of one day, what 
many things may be placed within the interval of twelve 
hours. A day for this man was more than a week or a month 
is for others ; the mass of things he guided on together was 
prodigious ; from the scheming to the executing not a 
moment lost." " Monsieur le Comte," said his secretary to 
him once, " what you require is impossible." " Impossible ! " 
answered he, starting from his chair — " Ne me dites jamais ce 
bete de mot" (Never name to me that blockhead of a 

138 Some Old Love Stories 


BUT more wonderful than even the extent of his 
labours was his patience in forming new combin- 
ations immediately after the old one had broken 
down. It has been seen already how he had failed 
with Necker ; how he had failed with Lafayette ; 
a ministerial combination with Sieyes and Talley- 
rand as his colleagues, had also failed. The 
National Assembly came athwart his great project 
of forming a constitutional Ministry out of the 
Assembly itself by passing the idiotic resolution 
that no member of the Assembly could take office. 
Against this senseless decree Mirabeau fought 
obstinately, heroically, finally throwing down in 
the Assembly the splendid defiance that the 
Deputy called Mirabeau should be alone excluded 
from power. More serious even than the jealousy 
and incompetence of the Chamber, than the 
priggishness of Necker, the mean jealousy of 
Lafayette, was the irresolution of the King, both 
from his own incapacity and from the conflicting 
currents of influence among the courts. Again 
and again, as poor Mirabeau sees the throne and 
its occupants being hurried to the Niagara, he 
calls out in anguish and in warning ; begs for 
a firm and a consistent policy ; begs for such a 
thorough understanding between him and the 
Court as would enable him to be its defender 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier T39 

and its shield. In vain ! And at last he thinks 
of a supreme expedient. He demands an inter- 
view with the Queen. The historic interview be- 
tween these two strange beings took place at Saint 

Mirabeau (I again go to Carlyle for the description) took 
his horse one evening, and rode westward, unattended, to see 
Friend Clariere in the country-house of his. Before getting 
to Clariere's, the much-amusing horseman struck aside to 
a back gate of the garden of Saint Cloud. Some Duke 
d'Aremberg, or the like, was there to introduce him ; the 
Queen was not far ; on a round gnoll (rond point), the 
highest of the garden of Saint Cloud, he beheld the Queen's 
face ; spoke to her, alone, under the void canopy of Night. 
What an interview ; fateful, secret for us, after all searching ; 
like the colloquies of the gods ! . . . And so, under the 
void Night, on the crown of that gnoll, she has spoken with 
Mirabeau ; he has kissed loyally the queenly hand, and said 
with enthusiasm, " Madame, the Monarchy is saved." 

Over and over again Mirabeau afterwards 
declared that the Queen was the person to whom 
he looked for the salvation of the throne. " She 
is a man for courage," he said more than once. 
The incompetence of the King ; the bravery of 
the Queen ; the popularity which the poor little 
Dauphin enjoyed — we now know how that ended 
— suggested to Mirabeau one of the thousand 
plans which rushed through his resourceful mind. 
Why should they not repeat in France the episode 
in the life of Marie Antoinette's mother, in which 
a throne had been saved by an appeal to a man's 
love for a Queen and tenderness for a child and 
mother ? 

140 Some Old Love Stones 


And so Mirabeau plots and plans in a thousand 
different directions ; making speeches in the 
Chamber, writing thousands of letters, having 
secret agents everywhere, getting that prodigious 
amount of work into a single day which astounded 
Dumont, keeping half-a-dozen other men at work 
to supply with fuel this mighty engine of ex- 
pression, force, and stimulation. And, meantime, 
the poor Titan — like so many other men of great 
originality — has the petty annoyances which mean 
foes can inflict. By the Assembly generally he is 
hated for this terrible domination, this supreme 
mastery, which puts them so much to shame; 
and littleness has a tremendous power of making 
itself nasty to greatness. The presidency of the 
Assembly is held for only a fortnight ; and Mira- 
beau, who is so palpably the greatest and therefore 
the first to be entitled to the place, sees no fewer 
than forty-two of his colleagues reach the eminence 
before he is allowed to get there. And even when 
the office is bestowed, it is probably in the hope 
of preventing him from using that splendid organ 
of his from the tribune ; for the President has 
not the right to intervene in debate during his 
tenure of office. But no force can suppress or 
silence Mirabeau. The speeches he cannot make 
to the Assembly he makes to those deputations 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 141 

that come to its bar almost every day ; and these 
speeches, fine in diction and in sentiment, delivered 
sonorously and with dignity, do much to augment 
the impression of this potent personality. 

And there is also a brief spell of happiness, even 
of enjoyment, for his debts have been paid by the 
Court ; he has a regular allowance ; he is able, after 
all the penury of his life, to breathe freely ; after 
imprisonment, that terrible father, his miserable 
allowance of fifty pounds a year, his Grub Street 
life in Amsterdam— after all this, Mirabeau has 
money ; and what does our poor devil do — with 
sea-green Robespierre, cold and fanatic St. Just — ■ 
with the affrighted bishops and the reactionary 
abbes — with the raucous newsboys shouting out in 
the very doors of the Assembly a pamphlet accusing 
him of treason to the nation and to the patriot cause 
— what does our poor devil of a Mirabeau do in face 
of all this, but live luxuriously, entertain royally ? 
Sometimes, after the fashion of that untamable 
Bohemianism of his, he gives a dinner to the 
National Guard, of which he was commandant, 
which costs £500, and likewise an entertainment 
where there are " the syrens of the Opera." The 
result of it all is that everybody knows that 
Mirabeau has raised the wind somehow ; and as 
the Court is the only place where the wind can be 
raised, it is universally believed that Mirabeau has 
sold himself to the Court. 

But spite of the dirty pamphlets, the looks of 

142 Some Old Love Stories 

Robespierre, the dreadful croakings of Marat, 
Mirabeau holds on his way, now defending the 
monarchy fearlessly, again catching hold of popu- 
larity by some splendid defence of the principles 
of freedom ; ever intriguing, planning, speaking. 
And thus it is that Carlyle fills in the picture of 
Mirabeau at this moment — 

Din of battles, wars more than civil, confusion from above 
and below, in such environment the eye of Prophecy sees 
Comte de Mirabeau, like some Cardinal de Retz, stormfully 
maintain himself ; with head all-devising, heart all-daring, if 
not victorious, yet unvanquished while life is left him. The 
specialities and issues of it no eye of prophecy can guess at ; 
it is clouds, we repeat, and tempestuous night ; and in the 
middle of it, now visible, far-darting, now labouring in eclipse, 
is Mirabeau indomitably struggling to be Cloud-Compeller ! 
One can say that, had Mirabeau lived, the history of France 
and of the world had been different. Further, that the man 
would have needed, as few men ever did, the whole compass 
of that same "Art of Daring, Art d'Oser," which he so 
prized, and likewise that he above all men living would have 
practised and manifested it. Had Mirabeau lived one other 
year ! 


" But Mirabeau could not live another year any 
more than he could live another thousand years." 
He has received plenty of warnings of the coming 
silence. When he sat in his place as President of 
the Assembly one day in January, he has to do so 
with " his neck wrapt in linen cloths, at the even- 
ing session ; there was sick heat of the blood, 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 143 

alternate darkening and flashing in the eyesight ; 
he had to apply leeches, after the morning labour, 
and preside bandaged. ' At parting he embraced 
me,' says Dumont, ' with an emotion I had never 
seen in him. " I am dying, my friend ; dying as 
by slow fire ; we shall perhaps not meet again. 
When I am gone they will know what the value 
of me was. The miseries I have held back will 
burst from all sides on France." ' " (Carlyle.) 

On March 27, proceeding towards the Assembly, he had 
to seek rest and help in Friend de la Marck's by the road, 
and lay there for an hour, half-fainting, stretched on a sofa. 
To the Assembly nevertheless he went, as if in spite of 
Destiny itself ; spoke loud and eager, five several times, 
then quitted the tribunal — for ever. He steps out, utterly 
exhausted, into the Tuileries Gardens ; many people press 
round him, as usual, with applications, memorials. He 
says to the friend who was with him — "Take me out of 
this ! " 

It helps to make us understand how Mirabeau 
was loved to know that this last occasion on which 
he dragged himself to the tribune was brought 
about by his affection for Lamarck. There was 
a proposal that mines should become the property 
of the State ; such a measure would have destroyed 
much of the fortune of his friend Lamarck ; and 
Mirabeau had convinced himself that he could 
conscientiously oppose it in the interests of the 
nation as well as in those of his friend. When he 
returned from the Assembly at three o'clock on 
that day, he threw himself on the sofa and said to 

144 Some Old Love Stories 

his friend — " Your cause is won, but I have got my 

His illness brought forth a manifestation which 
is one of the defences of his memory. It has been 
seen how boldly he declared his principles as a 
monarchist ; how fearless he was in opposition to 
the Extremists ; how deeply he was suspected of 
being in the pay of that Court which everybody 
had by this time learnt to distrust, and which 
many were beginning to hate ; and yet such was 
the mastery of the man that — 

On the last day of March, 1791, endless anxious multitudes 
beset the Rue de la Chaussee d'Antin, incessantly inquiring ; 
within doors there, in the house numbered in our time 42, 
the over-wearied giant has fallen down, to die. Crowds of 
all parties and kinds ; of all ranks, from the King to the 
meanest man ! The King sends publicly twice a day to in- 
quire — privately besides ; for the world at large there is no 
end of inquiring. " A written bulletin is handed out every 
three hours," is copied and circulated ; in the end it is printed. 
The people spontaneously keep silence — no carriage shall 
enter with its noise ; there is crowding pressure, but the 
sister of Mirabeau is reverently recognized, and has free way 
made for her. The people stand mute, heart-stricken ; to all 
it seems as if a great calamity were nigh ; as if the last man 
of France, who could have swayed these coming troubles, lay 
there at hand-grips with the unearthly Power. The silence 
of a whole people, the wakeful toil of Cabanis, friend and 
physician, skills not : on Saturday, the second day of April, 
Mirabeau feels that the last of the days has risen for him ; 
and on this day he has to depart and be no more. (Carlyle. ) 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 145 


IN dying, as in living, Mirabeau was great. 
There are few death-beds every hour of which has 
been told so often, and which remains so inefface- 
ably graven on the imagination of mankind. His 
mind remains clear almost to the last ; he feels all 
that is dying with him ; and expresses it in that 
strange, self-confident, and Titanic language which 
somehow or other does not offend. " I carry in 
my heart," he said, " the death-dirge of the French 
monarchy ; the dead remains of it will now be the 
spoils of faction." He hears the sound of cannon : 
" Have we," he cries, " the funeral of Achilles 
already ? " A friend supports his head. " Yes," 
he cries, " support that head ; would I could 
bequeath it to you ! " 

For three days there is low wide moan, weeping in the 
National Assembly itself. The streets are all mournful ; 
orators mounted on the domes, with large silent audience, 
preaching the funeral sermon of the dead. Let no coach- 
man whip fast, distractively with his rolling wheels, or 
almost at all, through these groups ! His traces may be 
cut ; himself and his fare, as incurable aristocrats, hurled 
sulkily into the kennels. The bourne-stone orators speak as 
it is given them ; the Sansculottic People, with its rude soul, 
listens eager, as men will to any sermon or Sermo when it 
is a spoken word meaning a thing, and not a babblement 
meaning nothing. In the Restaurateur's of the Palais Royal 
the waiter remarks — " Fine weather, Monsieur ! " " Yes, my 
friend," answers the ancient Man of Letters, " very fine, but 
Mirabeau is dead." Hoarse rhythmic threnodies come also 


146 Some Old Love Stories 

from the throats of ballad-singers, are sold on grey-white 
paper at a sou each. But of portraits, engraved, painted, hewn, 
and written ; of eulogies, reminiscences, biographies — nay, 
vaudevilles, dramas, and melodramas, in all provinces of 
France, there will, through these coming months, be the due 
immeasurable crop ; thick as the leaves of spring. So speaks 
and cackles manifold, the Sorrow of France, wailing articu- 
lately, inarticulately, as it can, that a Sovereign Man is 
snatched away. In the National Assembly, when difficult 
questions are astir, all eyes will " turn mechanically to the 
place where Mirabeau sat" — and Mirabeau is absent now. 

Mirabeau, meantime, meets death calmly. La- 
marck, who was fond of expressing his admira- 
tion of what he called beautiful deaths, when he 
comes to see him is greeted with — " Well, my dear 
connoisseur in the art of dying, you are contented 
with me." He drew up his will, left some legacies, 
but could not dispose of his property — for, after 
the fashion of this strange family of his, he and 
they were all in litigation one with the other ; and 
gave directions as to the safe custody of the papers 
which were to be the vindication of his policy and 
his purposes. Towards the close, there were the 
two magnificent outbursts of that mingled Theism 
and Paganism which was the dominant creed of 
that generation that had been brought up in the 
gospel of Jean Jacques Rousseau. He saw the 
spring sun rising, and exclaimed — " If that be not 
God, it is His cousin-german." And to Cabanis, 
the great physician who attended him, he said — 
" My friend, I shall die to-day. When one has got 

Mirabeau and Sophie de Monnier 147 

to that stage, the only thing left to do is to per- 
fume oneself, to crown oneself with flowers, to 
surround oneself with music, and thus enter 
pleasantly into that deep sleep from which there 
comes no awakening." He was not permitted to 
enter " pleasantly " into his last sleep — 

Death (writes Carlyle) has mastered the outworks, power 
of speech is gone, the citadel of the heart still holding out ; 
the moribund giant, passionately, by sign, demands paper 
and pen, writes his passionate demand for opium to end these 
agonies. The sorrowful doctor shakes his head. " Dormir" 
(to sleep), writes the other, passionately pointing at it ! 
So dies a gigantic Heathen and Titan ; stumbling blindly, 
undismayed, down to his rest. At half-past eight in the 
morning Doctor Petit, standing at the foot of the bed, says — 
" 77 ne sou ffre plus P His suffering and his working are now 



BEFORE you read the charming, strange, 
saddening little volume, take down from your 
bookshelves the second volume of Mr. Leslie 
Stephen's Hours in a Library, and re-read the 
essay on William Hazlitt. In the course of some 
thirty pages, you will refresh your memory with 
all that, for the moment at least, you require to 
remember of the great critic. On one passage 
you will pause — it gives so vivid a picture of the 
man and the critic in space so short; and I quote 
it here, because it helps to the enjoyment and 
understanding of the book with which we shall be 
immediately concerned. 

De Quincey refutes the saying of some admiring friend of 
Hazlitt, who confessed to a shudder whenever Hazlitt used 
his habitual gesture of placing his hand within his waistcoat. 

1 Liber Amoris, or the New Pygmalion, by William Hazlitt. 
With an Introduction by Richard le Gallienne. London : 
Elkin Matthews and John Lane. 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 149 

The hand might emerge armed with a dagger. Whenever, 
said the same friend (Heaven preserve us from our friends !), 
Hazlitt had been distracted for a moment from the general 
conversation he looked round with a mingled air of surprise 
and defiance, as though some objectionable phrase might 
have evaded his censure in the interval. The traits recur to 
us when we read Hazlitt's description of the men he had 
known. We seem to see the dark, sardonic man watching 
the faces and gestures of his friends, ready to take sudden 
offence at any affront to his cherished prejudices, and yet 
hampered by a kind of nervous timidity which makes him 
unpleasantly conscious of his own awkwardness. He remains 
silent till somebody unwittingly contradicts his unspoken 
thoughts — the most irritating kind of contradiction to some 
people — and perhaps heaps indiscriminate praise on an old 
friend, a term nearly synonymous with an old enemy. Then 
the dagger suddenly flashes out, and Hazlitt strikes two or 
three rapid blows, aimed with unerring accuracy at the weak 
points of the armour he knows so well. And then, as he 
strikes, a relenting comes over him ; he remembers old days 
with a sudden gush of fondness, and puts on a touch of scorn 
for his allies or himself. Coleridge may deserve a blow, but 
the applause of Coleridge's enemies awakens his self-reproach. 
His invective turns into panegyric, and he warms for a time 
into hearty admiration, which proves that his irritation arises 
from an excess, not from a defect of sensibility ; but finding 
that he has gone a little too far, he lets his praise slide into 
equivocal description, and, with some parting epigram, he 
relapses into silence. The portraits thus drawn are never 
wanting in piquancy nor in fidelity. Brooding over his 
injuries and his desertions, Hazlitt has pondered almost with 
the eagerness of a lover upon the qualities of his intimates. 
Suspicion, unjust it may be, has given keenness to his investi- 
gation. He has interpreted in his own fashion every mood 
and gesture. He has watched his friends as a courtier 
watches a royal favourite. He has stored in his memory, as 
we fancy, the good retorts which his shyness or unreadiness 
smothered at the propitious moment, and brings them out in 
the shape of a personal description. When such a man sits 
at our tables, silent and apparently self-absorbed, and yet 

150 Some Old Love Stories 

shrewd and sensitive, we may well be afraid of the dagger, 
though it may not be drawn till after our death, and may 
write memoirs instead of piercing flesh. 


THE curious mixture of sourness and kindliness, 
which is here so vividly set forth, belonged to a 
period when the professional writer had a good 
deal more to try his nerves and spoil his temper 
than in our more civilized times. Hazlitt stood, 
in the beginning of this century, almost at the head, 
not only of the literary critics, but of the Liberal 
journalists of his time ; and everybody who has read 
old numbers of the Quarterly and Blackwood, will 
know the style of controversy which raged in those 
ferocious days. Hazlitt could give as good as he 
got—though the splendour of his style gave to his 
most violent attack a dignity wanting in the mere 
malignity of the Quarterly and the whisky-and- 
haggis frothings of Blackwood. Like so many 
another fierce combatant with the pen, he was a 
shy, timid, and morbidly, horribly sensitive creature. 

My first meeting with Mr. Hazlitt (writes Barry Cornwall) 
took place at the house of Leigh Hunt, where I met him 
at supper. I expected to see a severe, defiant-looking being. 
I met a grave man, diffident, almost awkward in manner, 
whose appearance did not impress me with much respect. 
He had a quick, restless eye, however, which opened eagerly 
when any good or bright observation was made ; and I found, 
at the conclusion of the evening, that when any question 
arose the most sensible reply came from him. 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 151 

But shy, self-absorbed, diffident before others, he 
was at bottom proud, scornful, brimming over with 
every form of stirring and tumultuous passion. 
He himself spoke of himself as " the king of good 
haters " — which, indeed, he was not ; for your real 
hater doth never unpack his heart with words ; and 
our poor Hazlitt was constantly assailing some 
literary or political antipathy as a little blacker 
than Satan, and more destructive than sin. His 
strong personality can be read between every line 
that he wrote. It was his misfortune that he was 
cursed with a sensibility from which every stern 
combatant should be free. Thus Blackivood, in 
one of its attacks upon him, flung at him the 
brutality, " the pimpled Hazlitt " ; and this is how 
one of his friends described the effect upon him of 
such an assault — 

For instance, during the first week or fortnight after the 
appearance of— let us suppose — one of Blackwood's articles 
about him, if he entered a coffee-house where he was known, 
to get his dinner, it was impossible (he thought) that the 
waiters could be doing anything else all the time he was 
there, but pointing him out to guests as " the gentleman who 
was so abused last month in Blackwood's Magazine? If he 
knocked at the door of a friend, the look and reply of the 
servant (whatever they might be) made it evident to him 
that he had been reading Blackwood's Magazine before the 
family were up in the morning ! If he had occasion to call 
at any of the publishers for whom he might be writing at the 
time, the case was still worse, inasmuch as there his bread 
was at stake, as well as that personal civility which he valued 
no less. Mr. Colburn would be " not within," as a matter 
of course ; for his clerks to even ascertain his pleasure on 

152 Some Old Love Stories 

that point beforehand would be wholly superfluous : had they 
not all chuckled over the article at their tea the evening 
before ? Even the instinct of the shop-boys would catch the 
cue from the significant looks of those above them, and refuse 
to take his name to Mr. Oilier. They would " believe he was 
gone to dinner." He could not, they thought, want to have 
anything to say to a person who, as it were, went about with 
a sheet of Blackwood pinned to his coat-tail like a dish-cloth. 

And when he went home to his poor lodgings he 
was equally afflicted. 

If the servant who waited upon him did not answer his 
bell the first time — ah ! 'twas clear, she had read Black- 
wood's, or heard talk of it at the bar of the public-house 
where she went for the beer ! Did the landlady send up her 
bill a day earlier than usual, or ask for payment of it less 
civilly than was her custom, how could he wonder at it ? It 
was Blackwood 's doing. . . . Even the strangers that he 
met in the streets seemed to look at him askance, "with 
jealous leer malignant," as if they knew him by intuition for 
a man on whom was set the double seal of public and 
private infamy — the doomed and denounced of Blackwood's 


This man — the fierce yet sensitive controver- 
sialist, in some respects the truest and best critic 
of his time, the lover of fine books, beautiful 
pictures, all the graces and arts of life — was des- 
tined to be the hero of one of the most curious, 
squalid, and yet touching love stones that have 
ever been told. I have put his intellectual achieve- 
ments and his personal adventure in contrast, 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 153 

though they are not really so much in contradic- 
tion, for a sensuous and passionate temperament 
is as much at the root of the one as of the other. 
There is one other point in Hazlitt' s life which, 
when brought out, will explain his nature and this 

Patmore, giving an account of his curious daily habits, tells 
us how, rising at one or two, he would sit over his breakfast 
of black tea and toast (his slavery to black tea had, doubt- 
less, much to do with his misanthropy) " silent, motionless, 
and self-absorbed " till the evening, oppressed by a vis inertia 
which he was incapable of resisting, unless at the prospect of 
absolute destitution (for he never wrote till necessity actually 
forced it upon him), or " moved to do so by some inducement 
in which female attraction had a chief share." 

Hazlitt had all his life been in love with some 
woman or another, and finally, after many mis- 
chances in love, had been unhappily married. His 
wife seems to have grown as dissatisfied with him 
as he with her. They both went to Scotland, and 
by mutual agreement made a case for divorce in 
that country of strange matrimonial laws. I have 
not time to dwell on the character of the wife, 
further than to say that she has drawn her own 
picture in a diary, still extant, and that she seems 
to have been a woman of much practical sense, 
with a high idea of the value of money, and with 
a frigid temperament. It was just before this 
final separation, and in the midst of the legal 
proceedings, that Hazlitt was involved in his 
strange tragi-comedy. 

154 Some Old Love Stones 

It was on August 16, 1820, that Hazlitt " first 
saw the sweet apparition." The "sweet apparition " 
was Sarah Walker, daughter of a Mr. Walker, 
tailor and lodging-house keeper at No. 9, South- 
ampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, where Hazlitt 
had his humble and solitary lodgings. Sarah 
Walker will be shown to have been one of the 
poorest divinities that ever love and imagination 
created ; but I think that the critics have been too 
hard on her, and have underrated her attractions 
— physical and mental. Presently I shall give 
Hazlitt's estimate of her ; but, for the moment, 
let me quote, not his enraptured generalities, but 
a detailed description by one whose eye was not 
only not dimmed by love, but who was strongly 
prejudiced against her. Thus writes Barry 
Cornwall of her — 

I used to see this girl, Sarah Walker, at his lodgings, and 
could not account for the extravagant passion of her admirer. 
She was the daughter of the lodging-house keeper. Her 
face was round and small, and her eyes were motionless, 
glassy, and without any speculation (apparently) in them. 
Her movements in walking were very remarkable, for I never 
observed her to make a step. She went onwards in a sort 
of wavy, sinuous manner, like the movements of a snake. 
She was silent, or uttered monosyllables only, and was very 
demure. Her steady, unmoving gaze upon the person whom 
she was addressing was exceedingly unpleasant. The Ger- 
mans would have extracted a romance from her, enduing her 
perhaps with some diabolic attribute. 

De Quincey, says Mr. Le Gallienne in his intro- 
duction, adds another touch to her portrait — 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 155 

Hazlitt had confessed, he said, in conversation that one 
characteristic of her complexion made somewhat against her 
charm, " that she had a look of being somewhat jaded, as if 
she were unwell, or the freshness of the animal sensibilities 
gone by." May not this have been the passion-pallor, so 
much in evidence in aesthetic poetry — another mark of a 
strongly sexual nature? 


WHEN the whole story was nearly over, Hazlitt 
sate him down and wrote an account of it, and 
then, much to the scandal of his friends, and to 
the delight of the Blackwood enemy, published it 
all in a book. This was the origin of the Liber 
Anwris, or the New Pygmalion. It is a most 
curious book, and I place it on a higher literary 
level than Mr. Le Gallienne is disposed to do. 
To him it is " a document of nympholepsy " — a 
hateful word, which I wish Mr. Le Gallienne had 
spared us — " a biographical appendix," " necessary 
to the understanding of Hazlitt's curious dis- 
position " — in short, interesting solely as a picture 
of Hazlitt. I think, on the contrary, the really 
important thing in it is the portrait of the second 
person in the episode ; for that is a picture of 
a certain and not unfrequent type of woman — the 
sluttish coquette — half bourgeoises half servant- 
maid — cunning, adroit, intriguing, wanton, which is 
one of the finest, most truthful, most vivid por- 
traits in literature. However, on this point the 

156 Some Old Love Stones 

reader will have the same opportunity of pro- 
nouncing as Mr. Le Gallienne or myself, for the 
plan I shall adopt is that of telling the story by 
extracts from the book. 

Liber Amoris is divided into three books — 
mostly made up of a report of dialogues between 
Hazlitt and Sarah Walker — veiled under a very 
thin disguise. Thus the first chapter, entitled 
" The Picture," opens — 

H. Oh ! is it you ? I had something to show you — I have 
got a picture here. Do you know any one it's like ? S. No, 
sir. — H. Don't you think it's like yourself? - S. No ; it's 
much handsomer than I can pretend to be. — H. That's 
because you don't see yourself with the same eyes that 
others do. / don't think it handsomer, and the expression 
is hardly so fine as yours sometimes is. S. Now you flatter 
me. Besides, the complexion is fair, and mine is dark. — H. 
Thine is pale and beautiful, my love, not dark ! But if your 
colour were a little heightened, and you wore the same dress, 
and your hair were let down over your shoulders, as it is 
here, it might be taken for a picture of you. Look here, 
only see how like it is. The forehead is like, with that little 
obstinate protrusion in the middle ; the eyebrows are like, 
and the eyes are just like yours, when you look up and say, 
"No— never!" S. What, then, do I always say "No— 
never ! " when I look up ? — H. I don't know about that — I 
never heard you say so but once ; but that was once too 
often for my peace. It was when you told me " you could 
never be mine." Ah ! if you are never to be mine I shall not 
long be myself. I cannot go on as I am. My faculties leave 
me ; I think of nothing, I have no feeling about anything but 
thee ; thy sweet image has taken possession of me, haunts me, 
and will drive me to distraction. Yet I could almost wish to 
go mad for thy sake, for then I might fancy that I had thy 
love in return, which I cannot live without ! S. Do not, I 
beg, talk in that manner, but tell me what this is a picture 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 157 

ni—H. I hardly know ; but it is a very small and delicate 
copy (painted in oil on a gold ground) of some fine old 
Italian picture, Guido's or Raphael's, but I think Raphael's. 
Some say it is a Madonna ; others call it a Magdalen, and 
say you may distinguish the tear upon the cheek, though no 
tear is there. But it seems to me more like Raphael's St. 
Cecilia, " with looks commercing with the skies," than any- 
thing else. See, Sarah, how beautiful it is ! Ah ! dear girl, 
these are the ideas I have cherished in my heart, and in my 
brain ; and I have never found anything to realize them on 
earth till I met with thee, my love ! While thou didst seem 
sensible of my kindness, I was but too happy ; but now thou 
hast cruelly cast me off. S. You have no reason to say so ; 
you are the same to me as ever. — H. That is, nothing. You 
are to me everything, and I am nothing to you. Is it not too 
true ? 5. No.— Zf. Then kiss me, my sweetest. Oh ! could 
you see your face now — your mouth full of suppressed 
sensibility, your downcast eyes, the soft blush upon that 
cheek, you would not say the picture is not like because it is 
too handsome, or because you want complexion. Thou art 
heavenly-fair, my love — like her from whom the picture was 
taken— the idol of the painter's heart, as thou art of mine ! 
Shall I make a drawing of it, altering the dress a little, to 
show you how like it is ? S. As you please. 


IN spite of Mr. Le Gallienne or any other critic, 
I do maintain that this is delightfully lifelike, that 
you can positively see and hear the twain — our 
poor, eloquent, love-sick, imaginative literary man, 
with his long and brilliant speeches, and Sarah 
Walker — demure, terse, cautious — looking on at 
this strange spectacle, with those sly, inscrutable. 
but vigilant eyes of hers. Dialogue after dialogue 

158 Some Old Love Stories 

follows, always pretty much in the same strain ; 
each equally lifelike with that I have just quoted, 
each helping to build up the complete picture of 
this strange couple. Here is one, called "The 
Message." Thus it begins — 

S. Mrs. E has called for the book. H. Oh ! it is 

there ! Let her wait a minute or two. 

And then comes this delightful touch, in which 
the depth of the man's passion, the profundity of 
the slut's demureness and hypocrisy, are brought 
out in just a few strokes. 

/£ ... How beautiful your arms look in those short 
sleeves. S. I do twt like io wear them. 

In " The Confession " we have another contribu- 
tion towards the understanding of Sarah Walker. 
Its studied mysteriousness, its vagueness, its elusive- 
ness — all show the very perfection of finesse and 
hypocrisy. All this will not be seen till I have 
told the sequel of the story. 

//. You say you cannot love. Is there not a prior attach- 
ment in the case ? Was there any one else that you did 
like ? S. Yes, there was another.—//. Ah ! I thought as 
much. Is it long ago then? 5. It is two years, sir.— /f. 
And has time made no alteration ? Or do you still see him 
sometimes ? S. No, sir ! But he is one to whom I feel the 
sincerest affection, and ever shall, though he is far distant. 
— H. And did he return your regard ? S. I had every reason 
to think so.— H. What then broke off your intimacy ? S. It 
was the pride of birth, sir, that would not permit him think 
of a union.—/^. Was he a young man of rank, then ? S. His 
connections were high.—//: And did he never attempt to 
persuade you to any other step? S. No ; he had too great 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 159 

a regard for me. — H. Tell me, my angel, how was it ? Was 
he so very handsome ? Or was it the fineness of his manners ? 
S. It was more his manner ; but I can't tell how it was. 
It was chiefly my own fault. I was foolish to suppose he 
could ever think seriously of me. But he used to make me 
read with him — and I used to be with him a good deal, 
though not much neither — and I found my affections en- 
tangled before I was aware of it. — H. And did your mother 
and family know of it ? S. No ; I have never told any one 
but you ; nor I should not have mentioned it now, but I 
thought it might give you some satisfaction. — H. Why did 
he go at last ? S. We thought it better to part. — H. And do 
you correspond ? 6". No, sir. But perhaps I may see him 
again some time or other, though it will be only in the way 
of friendship. — H. My God ! what a heart is thine, to live 
for years upon that bare hope ! S. I do not wish to live 
always, sir — I wished to die for a long time after, till I 
thought it not right ; and since then I have endeavoured to 
be as resigned as I can. — H. And do you think the impres- 
sion will never wear out ? S. Not if I can judge from my 
feelings hitherto. It is now some time since, and I find no 
difference. — H. May God for ever bless you ! How can I 
thank you for your condescension in letting me know your 
sweet sentiments ? You have changed my esteem into adora- 
tion. Never can I harbour a thought of ill in thee again. 
.S". Indeed, sir, I wish for your good opinion and your friend- 
ship. — H. And can you return them ? S. Yes. — H. And 
nothing more? S. No, sir. — H. You are an angel, and I 
will spend my life, if you will let me, in paying you the 
homage that my heart feels towards you. 


" YOU are an angel," saith our poor distracted 
inamorato. But he soon has hideous and horrid 
suspicions that the angel has somewhat of the 
demon, and with characteristic fatuity he blurts 

160 Some Old Love Stories 

out his suspicions in the most ingenuous and 
insulting form ; as thus — 

But, oh ! my God ! after what I have thought of you and 
felt towards you as little less than an angel, to have but a 
doubt cross my mind for an instant that you were what I dare 
not name — a common lodging-house decoy, a kissing con- 
venience, that your lips were as common as the stairs. 

At once, the sly little hypocrite sees that the 
tempestuousness of her admirer's temper gives him 
into her hands. She plays dignity and suffering 
virtue ; holds her tongue ; lets him shout on, until 
she has obtained as full a mastery of all that he 
knows as Napoleon was able to get, by study, 
vigilance, and instinct, of the plans of the general 
opposed to him — and then, of course, the victory is 
easy — 

S. Let me go, sir. //. Nay, prove to me that you are not 
so, and I will fall down and worship you. . . . 

I must give something of what follows, though it 
is not pleasant, for without it the story would lose 
half its poor, common, human interest, and the 
picture would be blurred and incomplete. 

H. . . . You may remember, when your servant Maria 
looked in and found you sitting in my lap one day, and I was 
afraid she might tell your mother, you said — " You did not 
care, for you had no secrets from your mother." This seemed 
to me odd at the time, but I thought no more of it, till other 
things brought it to my mind. Am I to suppose, then, that 
you are acting a part, a vile part, all this time, and that you 
come up here, and stay as long as I like, that you sit on my 
knee and put your arms round my neck, and feed me with 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 161 

kisses, and let me take other liberties with you, and that for 
a year together ; and that you do all this not out of love, or 
liking, or regard, but go through your regular task, like some 
young witch, without one natural feeling, to show your clever- 
ness, and get a few presents out of me, and go down into the 
kitchen to make a fine laugh of it ? There is something 
monstrous in it, that I cannot believe of you. S. Sir, you 
have no right to harass my feelings in the manner you 
do ... I have always been consistent from the first. I told 
you my regard could amount to no more than friendship. — 
H. You say your regard is merely friendship, and that you 
are sorry I have ever felt anything more for you. Yet the 
first time I ever asked you, you let me kiss you ; the first 
time I ever saw you, as you went out of the room, you turned 
full round at the door, with that inimitable grace with which 
you do everything, and fixed your eyes full upon me, as much 
as to say, " Is he caught ?" — that very week you sat upon my 
knee, twined your arms round* me, caressed me with every 
mark of tenderness consistent with modesty; and I have not 
got much further since. 

What follows, in its strange alternation of squalor 
and romance, of degradation and exaltation, is one 
of the most curious passages in literature. In 
some points it reminds one of Alfred de Musset's 
wondrous and immortal picture of his supper with 

S. I am no prude, sir. — H. Yet you might be taken for 
one. So your mother said — " It was hard if you might not 
indulge in a little levity." She has strange notions of levity. 
But levity, my dear, is quite out of character in you. Your 
ordinary walk is as if you were performing some religious 
ceremony ; you come up to my table of a morning, when you 
merely bring in the tea-things, as if you were advancing to 
the altar. You move in minuet-time ; you measure every 
step, as if you were afraid of offending in the smallest things. 
I never heard your approach on the stairs, but by a sort of 


1 62 Some Old Love Stories 

hushed silence. When you enter the room, the Graces wait 
on you, and love waves round your person in gentle undula- 
tions, breathing balm into the soul ! By heaven, you are an 
angel ! You look like one at this instant ! Do I not adore 
you — and have I merited this return ? S. I have repeatedly 
answered that question. You -sit and fancy things out of 
your own head, and then lay them to my charge. There is 
not a word of truth in your suspicions. — H. Did I not over- 
hear the conversation down-stairs last night, to which you 
were a party ? Shall I repeat it ? S. \ had rather not hear 
it ! — H. Or what am I to think of this story of the footman ? 
S. It is false, sir ; I never did anything of the sort. 

Here, finally, is a passage which makes of Sarah 
the one and incomparable creation in letters of 
her class. The slut is not complete without the 
mixture of pretentiousness and humility which 
this passage suggests. It is also remarkable as 
giving a glimpse of those deadly suspicions with 
which the passion of our poor Hazlitt was crossed. 

S. I have high ideas of the married state ! — H. Higher 
than of the maiden state ? S. I understand you, sir. — H. I 
meant nothing ; but you have sometimes spoken of any 
serious attachment as a tie upon you. Is it not that you 
prefer flirting with " gay young men ; ' to becoming a mere 
dull domestic wife ? S. You have no right to throw out such 
insinuations : for though I am but a tradesman's daughter, 
I have as nice a sense of honour as any one can have. 


And the pitiful thing about it all is, that this is 
a transcript — wonderful in its fidelity, appalling in 
its frankness — from real life. The scenes which 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 163 

Hazlitt thus commits to paper all took place ; 
the transports and fatuous passion which he 
describes are to be found in the letters he wrote 
to his intimate friends about Sarah Walker. All 
the pitifulness of that separation in Edinburgh 
from his wife was lost upon him ; throughout it 
all he thought only of his overwhelming, over- 
mastering, and maddening passion. Thus he 
writes to a friend — he is evidently speaking of his 
wife and of his trip to Edinburgh to get the 
divorce — 

Mrs. is actually on her way here about the divorce. 

Should this unpleasant business (which has been so long 
talked of) succeed, and I should become free, do you think 

S. L. will agree to change her name to ? If she will, 

she shall j and to call her so to you or to hear her called so 
by others would be music to my ears, such as they never 
drank in. Do you think if she knew how I love her, my 
depressions and my altitudes, my wanderings and my con- 
stancy, it would not move her? When I sometimes think 
of the time I first saw the sweet apparition, August 16, 1820, 
and that possibly she may be my bride before that day two 
years, it makes me dizzy with incredible joy and love of her. 

It will be seen — and this is much of the tragedy 
of the whole business — our poor Hazlitt, through- 
out the entire business, loved his lodging-house 
wanton with no love that wanted to dishonour. 
He sends his best friends on embassies to her — to 
her father — to her brother-in-law — to everybody 
who can be expected to help his suit with her ; 
and in the midst of all this, there are such splendid 

164 Some Old Love Stories 

outbursts of despair as these — equal, I think, to 
some, at least, of the finest things in Rousseau — 

She has shot me through with poisoned arrows, and I 
think another "winged wound" would finish me. It is a 
pleasant sort of balm (as you express it) she has left in my 
heart ! One thing I agree with you in, it will remain there 
for ever ; but yet not very long. It festers, and consumes 
me. If it were not for my little boy, whose face I see struck 
blank at the news, looking through the world for pity and 
meeting with contempt instead, I should soon, I fear, settle 
the question by my death. That recollection is the only 
thought that brings my wandering reason to an anchor ; that 
stirs the smallest interest in me ; or gives me fortitude to 
bear up against what I am doomed to feel for the ungrateful. 
Otherwise, I am dead to everything but the sense of what I 
have lost. She was my life — it is gone from me, and I am 
grown spectral ! If I find myself in a place I am acquainted 
with, it reminds me of her, of the way in which I thought of 

and carved on every tree 

The soft, the fair, the inexpressive she ! 

If it is a place that is new to me, it is desolate, barren of all 
interest ; for nothing touches me but what has a reference to 
her. If the clock strikes, the sound jars me ; a million of 
hours will not bring back peace to my breast. The light 
startles me ; the darkness terrifies me. I seem falling into a 
pit, without a hand to help me. She has deceived me, and 
the earth fails from under my feet : no object in nature is 
substantial, real, but false and hollow, like her faith on which 
I built my trust. She came (I knew not how) and sat by my 
side, and was folded in my arms, a vision of love and joy, as 
if she had dropped from the heavens to bless me by some 
especial dispensation of a favouring Providence, and make 
me amends for all ; and now without any fault of mine but 
too much fondness, she has vanished from me, and I am left 
to perish. My heart is torn out of me, with every feeling 
for which I wished to live. The whole is like a dream, an 
effect of enchantment ; it torments me, and it drives me 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 165 

mad. I lie down with it ; I rise up with it ; and see no 
chance of repose. I grasp at a shadow, I try to undo the 
past, and weep with rage and pity over my own weakness 
and misery. I spared her again and again (fool that I was), 
thinking what she allowed from me was love, friendship, 
sweetness, not wantonness. How could I doubt it, looking 
in her face, and hearing her words, like sighs breathed from 
the gentlest of all bosoms ? I had hopes, I had prospects 
to come, the flattery of something like fame, a pleasure in 
writing, health even would have come back with her smile- 
she has blighted all, turned all to poison and childish tears. 
Yet the barbed arrow is in my heart — I can neither endure 
it, nor draw it out ; for with it flows my life's-blood. I had 
conversed too long with abstracted truth to trust myself with 
immortal thoughts of love. 


WHILE Hazlitt is in Edinburgh, trying to get a 
divorce from his wife, he writes numberless letters 
to his friends, in which he describes his alternations 
of hope and fear — delirious hope, frenzied fear — as 
to the ultimate success of his suit with Sarah 
Walker. We are unfortunately without many 
specimens of the letters on the other side, but we 
have one; and that, I think, with Hazlitt's com- 
ments upon it, will corroborate my contention that 
the more interesting picture of the two is that 
which Hazlitt draws of the woman. Could any- 
thing exceed in unconscious humour the following ? 
— Hazlitt is writing to a friend, of course, about the 
one and only subject — 

1 66 Some Old Love Stories 

Dear P , 

Here without loss of time, in order that I may 
have your opinion upon it, is little Yes and No's answer to 
my last. 


" I should not have disregarded your injunction 
not to send you any more letters that might come to you, 
had I not promised the Gentleman who left the enclosed to 
forward it the earliest opportunity, as he said it was of con- 
sequence. Mr. P called the day after you left town. 

My mother and myself are much obliged by your kind offer 
of tickets to the play, but must decline accepting it. My 
family send their best respects, in which they are joined by 

" Yours truly, 

" S. L." 

This letter is not wonderful ; but mark the 
lengthy comments which it suggests to our poor 

The deuce a bit more is there of it. If you can make 
anything out of it (or anybody else) I'll be hanged ... I 
suspect her grievously of being an arrant jilt, to say no more 
— yet I love her dearly. Do you know, I'm going to write to 
the sweet rogue presently, having a whole evening to myself 
in advance of my work. Now mark, before you set about 
your exposition of the new Apocalypse of the New Calypso, 
the only thing to be endured in the above letter is the date. 
It was written the very day after she received mine. By this 
she seems willing to lose no time in receiving these letters 
" of such sweet breath composed." If I thought so — but I 
wait for your reply. After all, what is there in her but a 
pretty figure, and that you can't get a word out of her ? 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 167 


It will be seen from this that Hazlitt had got 
to the real ecstasy of madness. Whatever this 
creature did, was transformed into something un- 
real, vast, unnatural, until the whole thing was like 
the phantasmagoria of some opiated dream. This 
letter of the jade, which I have just given, has the 
stamp of the lodging-house " slavey " in its every 
line. Its simple prose would be palpable to any 
eye which was not frenzied by love. But our Haz- 
litt is really frenzied ; for thus doth he discourse in 
another letter, when he thinks the loved one has 
cast him off — 

Who could ever feel that peace from the touch of her dear 
hand that I have done ; and is it not torn from me for ever ? 
My state is this, that I shall never lie down again at night 
nor rise up in the morning in peace, nor ever behold my 
little boy's face with pleasure while I live — unless I am 
restored to her favour. Instead of that delicious feeling I 
had when she was heavenly kind to me, and my heart 
softened and melted in its own tenderness and her sweet- 
ness, I am now enclosed in a dungeon of despair. The sky 
is marble to my thoughts ; nature is dead around me, as 
hope is within me ; no object can give me one gleam of 
satisfaction now, nor the prospects of it in time to come. I 
wander by the sea-side ; and the eternal ocean and lasting 
despair and her face are before me. Slighted by her, on 
whom my heart by its last fibre hung, where shall I turn ? 
I wake with her by my side, not as my sweet bed-fellow, but 
as the corpse of my love, without a heart in her bosom, cold, 
insensible, or struggling from me ; and the worm gnaws me, 
and the sting of unrequited love, and the canker of a hope- 
less, endless sorrow. 

1 68 Some Old Love Stories 


HERE is another eloquent passage — Hazlitt is 
still in Scotland — 

Do you know, you would have been delighted with the 
effect of the Northern twilight on this romantic country as I 
rode along last night. The hills and groves and herds of 
cattle were seen reposing in the grey dawn of midnight, as in 
a moonlight without shadow. The whole wide canopy of 
heaven shed its reflex light upon them, like a pure crystal 
mirror. No sharp points, no petty details, no hard contrasts 
— every object was seen softened yet distinct in its simple 
outline and natural tones, transparent with an inward light, 
breathing its own mild lustre. The landscape altogether was 
like an airy piece of mosaic-work, or like one of Poussin's 
broad, massy landscapes, or Titian's lovely pastoral scenes. 
Is it not so that poets see nature, veiled to the sight but 
revealed to the soul in visionary grace and grandeur ! I 
confess the sight touched me ; and might have removed all 
sadness except mine. So (I thought) the light of her celestial 
face once shone into my soul, and wrapt me in a heavenly 
trance. The sense I have of beauty raises me for a moment 
above myself, but depresses me the more afterwards when I 
recollect how it is thrown away in vain admiration, and that 
it only makes me more susceptible of pain from the morti- 
fications I meet with. Would I had never seen her ! I 
might then not indeed have been happy, but at least I might 
have passed my life in peace, and have sunk into forgetful- 
ness without a pang. The noble scenery in this country 
mixes with my passion, and refines, but does not relieve it. 
I was at Stirling Castle not long ago. It gave me no 
pleasure. The declivity seemed to me abrupt, not sublime ; 
for in truth I did not shrink back from it with terror. The 
weather-beaten towers [were stiff and formal : the air was 
damp and chill : the river winded its dull, slimy way like a 
snake along the marshy grounds : and the dim, misty tops of 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 169 

Ben Leddi, and the lovely Highlands (woven fantastically of 
thin air) mocked my embraces and tempted my longing eyes 
like her, the sole queen and mistress of my thoughts ! I 
never found my contemplations on this subject so subtilized 
and at the same time so desponding as on that occasion. I 
wept myself almost blind, and I gazed at the broad golden 
sunset through my tears, that fell in showers. As I trod the 
green mountain turf, oh ! how I wished to be laid beneath it 
— in one grave with her — that I might sleep with her in that 
cold bed, my hand in hers, and my heart for ever still— while 
worms should taste her sweet body that I had never tasted ! 


In the midst of all these ravings, there comes 
from some friend news of a reassuring character — 
either that the girl is modest in her demeanour, or 
that she seems ready to marry Hazlitt ; and at 
once he bursts into some such paean as this — 

My dear P , 

You have saved my life. If I do not keep friends with 
her now, I deserve to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. She 
is an angel from Heaven, and you cannot pretend I ever said 
a word to the contrary ! The little rogue must have liked 
me from the first, or she never could have stood all these 
hurricanes without slipping her cable. What could she find 
in me? " I have mistook my person all this while," etc. Do 
you know I saw a picture, the very pattern of her, the other 
day, at Dalkeith Palace (Hope finding Fortune in the Sea), 
just before this blessed news came, and the resemblance 
drove me almost out of my senses. Such delicacy, such 
fulness, such perfect softness, such buoyancy, such grace ! 
If it is not the very image of her, I am no judge. You have 
the face to doubt my making the best husband in the world : 
you might as well doubt it if I was married to one of the 

170 Some Old Love Stories 

houris of Paradise. She is a saint, an angel, a love. If she 
deceives me again, she kills me. But I will have such a kiss 
when I get back as shall last me twenty years. May God 
bless her for not utterly disowning and destroying me ! What 
an exquisite little creature it is, and how she holds out to the 
last in her system of consistent contradictions ! 


At last Hazlitt is back in Southampton Build- 
ings, and at once rushes to find out his fate. As 
the decisive hour approaches, passion and delirium 
increase ; and we have a succession of those strange 
scenes — such as I have already described — in which 
the grown and brilliantly intellectual man is as 
clay in the hands of an ignorant, dull, wanton 
lodging-house wench. And her art, after all, was 
so simple — the art of holding her tongue, or, when 
she spoke, of uttering just the kind of words that 
suited her impetuous lover. " I cannot," he ex- 
claims, " describe her manner. Her words are few 
and simple ; < but you can have no idea of the 
exquisite, unstudied, irresistible graces with which 
she accompanies them, unless you can suppose a 
Greek statue to smile, move, and speak." 

And then he describes a conversation, in which 
the young woman uses language of slavey common- 
place, such as — " My feelings towards you are the 
same as they ever were " ; or " I despise looks." 
This last phrase sends our poor critic — whom, it 
will be remembered, Blackwood had described as 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 171 

"the pimpled Hazlitt," and who had suspected a 
good-looking lodger — this last phrase sends our 
poor critic into the seventh heaven. 

All this time she was standing just outside the door, my 
hand in hers (would that they could have grown together) ; 
she was dressed in a loose morning-gown, her hair curled 
beautifully ; she stood with her profile to me, and looked 
down the whole time. No expression was ever more soft or 
perfect. Her whole attitude, her whole form, was dignity 
and bewitching grace. I said to her — "You look like a 
queen, my love, adorned with your own graces ! " 

But there comes a dreadful moment immediately 
after — 

I grew idolatrous, and would have kneeled to her. She 
made a movement, as if she was displeased. I tried to draw 
her towards me. She wouldn't. I then got up, and offered 
to kiss her at parting. I found she obstinately refused. This 
stung me to the quick. It was the first time in her life she 
had ever done so. There must be some new bar between us 
to produce these continued denials ; and she had not even 
esteem enough left to tell me so. I followed her half-way 
down-stairs, but to no purpose, and returned into my room, 
confirmed in my most dreadful surmises. I could bear it no 
longer. I gave way to all the fury of disappointed hope and 
jealous passion. 


BUT again the jade has only to utter a cunningly 
ambiguous word, and her adorer is once more at 
her feet. Sometimes, indeed, the words have not 
come from her own precious lips. Her little sister 
— who seems to have had her share of the family 

172 Some Old Love Stones 

cunning — has been told by Hazlitt in his rage to 
bring back the books he has presented to the 
faithless girl, and especially the books which he 
himself has written ; whereupon, " as if inspired by 
the genius of the place," the young minx of a sister 
— some twelve or fourteen years old — exclaims : 
" and those are the ones that she prizes the most." 
And at once our Hazlitt bursts into an ecstasy and 
a palinode — 

If there were ever words spoken that could revive the 
dead, those were the words. Let me kiss them, and forget 
that my ears have heard aught else ! I said—" Are you sure 
of that ? " and she said—" Yes, quite sure." I told her—" If I 
could be, I should be very different from what I was." And 
I became so that instant, for these casual words carried 
assurance to my heart of her esteem — that once implied, I 
had proofs enough of her fondness. Oh ! how I felt at that 
moment ! Restored to love, hope, and joy, by a breath 
which I had caught by the merest accident, and which I 
might have pined in absence and mute despair for want of 
hearing ! I did not know how to contain myself ; I was 
childish, wanton, drunk with pleasure. 


THERE is plenty more of this kind of thing — 
with these fluctuations of hope and despair re- 
peated over and over again. Let me go forward 
to the end of the story. Hazlitt has to complain 
that the girl goes out too often in the evenings ; at 
last he can stand it no longer, and hearing that she 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 173 

has gone to Somerstown, sets out after her — and 
here is what follows — 

I passed one or two streets, and at last turned up King 
Street, thinking it most likely she would return that way 
home. I passed a house in King Street where I had once 
lived, and had not proceeded many paces, ruminating on 
chance and change and old times, when I saw her coming 
towards me. I felt a strange pang at the sight, but I thought 
her alone. Some people before me moved on, and I saw 
another person with her. The murder was out. It was a 
tall, rather well-looking young man, but I did not at first 
recollect him. We passed at the crossing of the street with- 
out speaking. Will you believe it, after all that had passed 
between us for two years, after what had passed in the last 
half-year, after what had passed that very morning, she went 
by me without even changing countenance, without express- 
ing the slightest emotion, without betraying either shame or 
pity, or remorse, or any other feeling that any other human 
being but herself must have shown in the same situation ? 
She had no time to prepare for acting a part, to suppress her 
feelings ; the truth is, she has not one natural feeling in her 
bosom to suppress. I turned and looked — they also turned 
and looked — and as if by mutual consent we both retrod our 
steps and passed again in the same way. I went home. I 
was stifled. I could not stay in the house, walked into the 
street, and met them coming towards home. As soon as he 
had left her at the door (I fancy she had prevailed with him 
to accompany her, dreading some violence) I returned, went 
up-stairs, and requested an interview. 


FROM Sarah, naturally, our poor author gets no 
satisfaction; she denies everything; but Hazlitt 
soon finds a more communicative source. Going 

174 Some Old Love Stories 

out in despair into the streets, he comes right plump 
upon no other person in the world but the redoubt- 
able C himself. If anything were required to 

accentuate the pitifulness of poor Hazlitt's love — 
the never-ended tragedy of the preference by woman 
of an unworthy and a dishonouring to an honour- 
able and exalted passion, it is to be found in the 
portrait which the preferred lover draws of himself 

and her. Mr. C is the frankest of that order 

— perhaps the most successful order of any men 
with women — the order that kisses and tells. Listen 
to this inimitable passage — 

I went up to him and asked for a few minutes' conversation 
on a subject that was highly interesting to me, and I believed 
not indifferent to him : and in the course of four hours' talk 
it came out that for three months previous to my quitting 
London for Scotland, she had been playing the same game 
with him as with me ; that he breakfasted first, and enjoyed 
an hour of her society, and then I took my turn, so that we 
never jostled ; and this explained why, when he came back 
sometimes and passed my door, as she was sitting in my 
lap, she coloured violently, thinking, if her lover looked in, 
what a denouement there would be. He could not help again 
and again expressing his astonishment at finding that our 
intimacy had continued unimpaired up to so late a period 
after he came, and when they were on the most intimate 
footing. She used to deny positively to him that there was 
anything between us, just as she used to assure me with 

impenetrable effrontery that " Mr. C was nothing to her 

but merely a lodger." All this while she kept up the farce 
of this romantic attachment to her old lover, and that she 
never could alter in that respect, let me go to Scotland on 
the solemn and repeated assurance that there was no new 
flame, that there was no bar between us but this shadowy 
love ; I leave her on this understanding, she becomes more 

William Hazlitt and Sarah Walker 175 

fond or more intimate with her new lover ; he quitting the 
house (whether tired out or not, I can't say) ; in revenge she 
ceases to write to me, keeps me in wretched suspense, treats 
me like something loathsome to her when I return to inquire 
the cause, denies it with scorn and impudence, destroys me 
and shows no pity, no desire to soothe or shorten the pangs 
she has occasioned by her wantonness and hypocrisy, and 
wishes to linger the affair on to the last moment, going out 
to keep an appointment with another while she pretends to 

be obliging me in the tenderest point (which C himself 

said was too much). . . 


THE awakening was bitter, but it seems to have 
been prompt and complete. " I did not sleep a wink 
all that night," says our poor Hazlitt. But when 
the first shock was over, the recovery was almost 
as rapid as the passion. He still ponders over the 
strange contradictions of the girl's subtle and 
cunning character. He still thinks of her as " a 
lovely apparition " ; still wonders how " a pretty, 
reserved, modest, delicate-looking girl " should play 
the wanton as she has done. 

" She defied any one to read her thoughts," she once told 
me. "Do they then require concealing?" I imprudently 
asked her. The command over herself is surprising. She 
never once betrays herself by any momentary forgetfulness, by 
any appearance of triumph or superiority to the person who 
is her dupe, by any levity of manner in the plenitude of her 
success ; it is one faultless, undeviating, consistent, con- 
summate piece of acting. Were she a saint on earth, she 
could not seem more like one. Her hypocritical, high-flown 
pretensions, indeed, make her the worse ; but still the 

176 Some Old Love Stories 

ascendency of her will, her determined perseverance in what 
she undertakes to do, has something admirable in it 
approaching to the heroic. 

And finally he completes the picture of her 
character by declaring that exposure did not in the 
least abash her. "She has not," says Hazlitt, 
" shown the least regard to her own character, or 
shame when she was detected." Her colouring 
once or twice is the only sign of grace she has 


And now Hazlitt, after his fierce but brief mad- 
ness, bids his enchantress a farewell. In the sudden- 
ness and completeness of the revulsion there is 
something which makes one even sad. 

My seeing her in the street has gone a good way to satisfy 
me. Her manner there explains her manner indoors to be 
conscious and overdone ; and besides, she looked but in- 
differently. She is diminutive in stature, and her measured 
step and timid air do not suit those public airings. I am 
afraid she will soon grow common to my imagination, as well 
as worthless in herself. Her image seems fast " going into 
the wastes of time," like a weed that the wave bears farther 
and farther from me. Alas ! thou poor hapless weed, when 
I entirely lose sight of thee, and forever, no flower will ever 
bloom on earth to glad my heart again ! 



WHEN Mary Antoinette left her home and be- 
came a wife, she was fourteen years of age. The 
Austrian Court was then represented at Versailles 
by the Count de Mercy-Argenteau ; and it was 
part of his duty to advise his young countrywoman, 
and to send to her mother a private account of the 
young lady's doings. I read with a curaous mixture 
of feelings the /mi/statement of this elderly adviser, 
that he had two chief complaints to make of the 
young wife — she would gamble, and she would not 
clean her teeth. De Quincey in one of his super- 
fine moods — and he was not often superfine — 
made very merry, and also wroth, over the pas- 
sage in Carlyle's translation of Wilhelm Meister, 
which faithfully records the fact that a young 
actress's comb still bore the marks of its recent 
use when her lover entered her room ; I don't 

1 A Friend of the Queen (Marie Antoinette — Count de 
Fersen). From the French of Paul Gaulot. By Mrs. Cashel 
Hoey. London : William Heinemann. 

177 N 

178 Some Old Love Stories 

know what De Quincey would have said if he had 
come across this passage in the reports of the 
Austrian Ambassador on the life of Marie 
Antoinette. Upon me it makes the impression of 
a vivid, lifelike, and almost eloquent touch of 
nature. More than almost anything else I have 
read, it makes me realize how utterly a child was 
this most pathetic figure at the moment when she 
was thrown into all the difficulties of her new 

For the child of fourteen found herself at once 
in surroundings repellent, perilous, and unnatural. 
The King was a dying and wearied debauche ; 
the real sovereign was a painted and vulgar harlot. 
All the relations of her husband hated the new- 
comer, spied on her, calumniated her; and her 
husband — the one stay and refuge in all this stormy 
ocean of bad example, abhorring jealousy, and 
calumnious togues — was, if not positively hostile, 
at least indifferent to her happiness, to her heart, 
and above all to her person. Imagine, then, the 
position in which this beautiful and probably 
spoiled child — you, who have unlearned the angelic 
and spectral theory of woman's nature — was placed 
by her husband ; and, if you will only do this, you 
will be able to follow sympathetically her whole life, 
and especially the episode of it which I am about 
to tell. 

Let us see what the girl-wife was like. First, let 
me quote the testimony of a woman — a woman, 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 179 

too, who knew all the secrets of Marie Antoinette's 
toilet, Mdlle. Bertin, her dressmaker — 

Let us picture to ourselves a dazzling fair complexion, in 
which the tints of the earliest summer roses are blended ; 
large, prominent eyes of azure blue ; a forehead crowned 
with luxuriant fair hair, bearing the impress of majesty and 
frankness, gave the noblest expression to her whole counten- 
ance. This was enhanced by the perfect shape of her nose. 
The only defect in the face of the lovely Princess was the 
slight protrusion of the lower lip ; but this was a distinctive 
feature of the House of Austria, and reminded all that she 
was the daughter of Maria Theresa. Her figure was shapely 
and tall for her age ; her neck and bust were perfect ; her 
hands beautiful, her legs and feet worthy of the Venus 
de Medicis. Her movements were easy and graceful, her 
whole person was delightfully harmonious, so that none 
could behold her without admiration, because she always 
desired to please all who saw her. 

Count Till, who was one of her pages, gives a 
less glowing, but a somewhat similar, picture. He 
writes — 

She had that which is of higher price upon the throne 
than perfect beauty, the face of Queen of France, even at 
those moments in which she sought to appear only as a 
pretty woman. She had two ways of walking — one was firm, 
rather quick, and always noble ; the other more leisurely 
and balanced, I might almost say it was a caressing move- 
ment, but it never tempted any to forgetfulness of respect. 
Never did woman curtsey with such grace, saluting ten 
persons by one bend of her body, and giving each his or her 
share by the movement of her head and eyes. In a word, it 
would have come as naturally to every man to bring forward 
a throne to her as to offer a chair to any other woman. 

180 Some Old Love Stories 


There could not be a greater contrast, physically 
and mentally, than the husband. It is not necessary 
to blacken poor Louis XVI. in order to make 
Marie Antoinette more dazzling. The story of their 
married life is like that of a great many average 
couples. They clung to each other, and helped 
and perhaps even loved each other when common 
disaster threatened them ; but for the rest, they 
probably managed to make life a good deal harder 
and more bitter and less fortunate to each other. 
Certainly, the influence of the husband upon the 
wife in the first years of the marriage was purely 
evil, and is accountable for much of her folly. 

The Due de la Vauguyon, the tutor of Louis 
while he was still a Dauphin, seemed to entertain 
curious notions of married life — 

During the early years of their marriage he took the 
most ridiculous precautions to keep the young couple apart, 
even to arranging with the architects that the husband and 
wife were to have separate apartments. And when he could 
not avoid leaving them together, as seldom as possible, he 
even condescended to play the spy to the extent of listening 
at keyholes in order to hear the conversation between his 
charge and the dauphiness, at the risk of being surprised in 
that equivocal attitude, a catastrophe which occurred one 
day, to the great confusion of all three. 

But the ardour of Louis required no such vigilance. 
Here is how he wrote in his diary, in the first 
month of his marriage — 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 181 

Sunday, 13.— Left Versailles. Supped and slept at Com- 
piegne at the house of M. de Saint Florentin. Monday, 14.— 
Interview with Mdme. la Dauphine. Tuesday, 15.— Supped 
at La Muette. Slept at Versailles. Wednesday, 16.— My 
marriage. Apartment in the gallery. Royal banquet in the 
Salle d'Opera. Thursday, 17.— Opera of Perseus. Friday, 
18.— Stag hunt. Meet at La Belle Image. Took one. 
Saturday, 19. — Dress ball in the Salle d'Opera. Fireworks. 

The month's chronicle ends with this character- 
istic record — 

31. — I had an indigestion. 

In regions beyond the sky there is a race of 
women who could endure all this without protest 
or temper. On earth, most women, especially in 
the days of their youth and beauty, would have 
resented it, and, if they only had her frankness and 
courage, would have spoken as Marie Antoinette 
did, — unless, perhaps, like Mrs. Carlyle, — whose 
married path was in some respects not at all 
dissimilar — she gave utterance to her woe in letters 
to friends. Let us quote our French writer as to 
how, at all events, Marie felt — 

For seven years Marie Antoinette's solitary wifely privilege 
was the beholding of her stupid husband as he ate, drank, 
hunted, and did his locksmith work. Is it to be wondered at 
that she was wounded to the heart by such ordinary indiffer- 
ence, and that she sometimes allowed bitter and sarcastic 
words to escape her lips ? For instance, when she impatiently 
answered one of her ladies, who urged her not to go out 
riding — " For God's sake leave me in peace, and know, once 
for all, that I am not endangering an heir ! " The following 
passage from a letter written at this period by the Queen to 
the Comte de Rosenberg Orsini throws a strong light upon 

1 82 Some Old Love Stories 

the feelings of the neglected wife — " I shall never trouble 
myself about the stories that go to Vienna," she writes, " so 
long as you are told of them. You know Paris and Versailles : 
you have seen and judged. If I had to excuse myself, I 
should readily confide in you ; indeed, I would candidly 
acknowledge more than you say ; for instance, that my tastes 
are not the same as those of the King, who cares only for 
hunting and blacksmith's work. You will admit that I should 
not show to advantage in a forge. I could not appear there 
as Vulcan, and the part of Venus might displease him even 
more than my tastes, which, however, he does not dislike." 

" I am not endangering an heir " — it is not very- 
refined, and it was terribly imprudent — it was 
possibly the small mustard-seed that grew to the 
mighty tree of attacks on her reputation by and 
by — but it was very human and very significant — 
and it was the epitaph of her married life. 


Frenchmen are not slow to notice nor slow to 
take full advantage of the position of a wife who is 
beautiful, fond of pleasure, and neglected ; and our 
poor Marie Antoinette, being still a child, was only 
too demonstrative in showing her feelings. She 
found that while her whole nature craved laughter, 
brightness, movement, love — she was expected to 
confine herself within the ring-fence of an etiquette 
almost as elaborate as that of the Court of Spain. 
In short, Marie Antoinette was in about the same 
frame of mind as most of us are in the years before 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 183 

twenty — full of the intoxication, the dreams, and 
the madness of youth. 

Of all capitals in the world Paris is the most 
calculated to bring out such tendencies. It was 
smaller then than now, but it was no less fascin- 
ating — no less fond of pleasure. Talleyrand, who 
saw so many ages of the world, declared emphatic- 
ally that nobody who had not lived in France 
before the Revolution knew what an agreeable exist- 
ence really was. Naturally, the people of whom he 
was thinking was the class of nobles and eccle- 
siastics to which he himself belonged. The starving 
masses doubtless would express a very different 
opinion. However, Paris was agreeable enough to 
Marie Antoinette. She went to masked balls ; 
she had night rides in disguise through the streets; 
she was so fond of cards that on one occasion she 
sat at the table for thirty-six hours on a stretch. 
In addition, she had her full share of the common 
weaknesses of her sex. She was fond of admira- 
tion, valued her beauty more than her position ; 
did not always snub the Lovelaces who offered to 
her the homage which was a dishonour and a peril ; 
her love of dress was almost the proximate cause 
of her end on the scaffold ; and she had no sense 
whatever of the value of money. Two criticisms 
were passed upon her by two very different critics. 
One of her brothers-in-law, who loathed her, gave her 
the nickname of " Mdme. Deficit," a name which, 
with national bankruptcy threatening to swallow up 

184 Some Old Love Stories 

the nation and the throne, was almost like the 
denunciation that invites assasination. Catherine 
of Russia, who was a far more kindly student, and 
who certainly had no prejudice against amusement, 
legitimate or illicit, made the graver criticism that 
Marie Antoinette was wrong " to laugh at every- 
thing." But then, if we -be ready to join in the 
howl which pursues Marie Antoinette beyond the 
grave, and if we be not prepared to separate the 
woman from the mighty and tragic events which 
were the inevitable but unconscious brood of her 
personal weaknesses, do let us remember that she 
was a woman ; that without these weaknesses she 
would not have been so thoroughly a woman, and 
that the greatest rulers and the greatest wits of 
her sex have had almost the same weaknesses too. 
She was more beautiful, but not vainer, than our 
own Elizabeth ; she was not fonder of admirers 
and admiration ; if she were less wise, at least she 
was more amiable. And if you be disposed to put 
down Marie Antoinette's craving for a man's love 
to intellectual deficiency, then think of what the 
mightiest female spirit, who belonged to the same 
period, said of woman and of love — " A woman's 
fame is only the showy mourning worn for happi- 
ness " — this is how Mdme. de Stael pathetically 
described that universal craving for a man's love, 
for which even a European fame cannot compensate 
a woman. 

There had been many aspirants to the empty 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 185 

heart of Marie Antoinette. Frenchmen, whatever 
their merit, do not shine in affairs of gallantry by 
modesty, timidity, by the absence of vanity, or the 
presence of consideration. The soupirants who 
gathered around Marie Antoinette had all the 
marks of their race. Baron Be'senval made an 
open declaration of love after he was fifty ; the 
Due de Lauzun "had the audacity to don her 
livery," " to follow her about for a whole day wher- 
ever she went," and "to remain at night like a 
watch-dog at the door of her apartment." The 
Due de Coigny chided her in public and audibly, 
for speaking to Lauzun. In short, these gentlemen 
advertised themselves and their passion for the 
Queen, where a thousand eyes peeped from every 
window, through every keyhole, from every ceiling, 
to catch and incriminate a hated obstacle to their 


THE lover whose story I am telling to-day was 
of a type very different from any of these. On 
January 10, 1774, the Ambassador of Sweden 
presented to Marie Antoinette a young countryman 
of his who was then travelling to complete his 
education — Count John Axel de Fersen — 

Count Fersen, who was then in his nineteenth year, 
attracted attention by his manly beauty and fine expression, 

1 86 Some Old Love Stones 

although the latter was rather cold ; but, as Tilly remarks, 
" Women do not dislike impassive faces when they may hope 
to animate them." The young Swede's countenance was of 
this kind. His large limpid eyes, shaded by thick black 
lashes, had the calm outlook of the northern people, the 
impress of whose melancholy he bore ; but this did not 
always or completely conceal the warmth of a generous 
nature quite capable of passion. He had a small mouth with 
expressive lips, a straight, well-formed nose, the fine, thin 
nostrils that are sometimes a sign of shyness, or, at least, 
of caution and reserve. His manner bore the impress of 
nobility and simplicity, his attitude was in every respect that 
of a true gentleman. 

A Royal princess once pathetically complained 
that while the birds of the air were free to choose 
their mates, the women of Royal households were 
not. Doubtless, if Marie Antoinette had been free 
to choose her mate, she would have at that moment 
chosen this young and handsome foreigner. They 
were just about the same age. She was born on 
November 2, 1755, he on September 4 — just two 
months earlier in the same year. They were both, 
therefore, just turned nineteen at the moment of 
their meeting. Marie Antoinette was not slow to 
reveal the impression which the handsome young 
stranger made upon her ; and he — dazzled, flattered, 
enamoured — was, it was afterwards remarked, one 
of the last to leave the ball-room where the first 
meeting had taken place. 

About three weeks afterwards there came a 
second meeting ; it was one very much less formal, 
much more calculated to challenge gallantry. It 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 187 

almost makes me shudder, when one thinks of 
what followed, to read the story of this meeting. 
Who, that is at all familiar with French literature, 
does not know the part which the masked ball at 
the Opera has played in the history of the French 
nation ? The scene, with its bacchanalian wildness, 
its audacity, its intrigue, its strange combination of 
wild revel and haunting and menacing tragedy — 
the scene, I say, is one that has caught hold of the 
imagination of the whole world. The novelist and 
the dramatist have exhausted their art in its 
description, and with the result, that there are few 
of us who are not able to bring the brilliant 
spectacle at once before his mind's eye. To pick 
at random from recollections of the place that crowd 
the memory, I can see on that stage the terrible 
scene when the Due de Berry was slain by Louvet's 
dagger ; or that other scene, made more real by 
the hand of genius than reality, where the Corsican 
Brothers visit the Opera-house as the ante-chamber 
to death ; or that other scene, real and yet com- 
mingled with more than one work of fiction, in 
which George Sand, infuriated by jealousy, glides 
in to find Alfred de Musset surrounded by a crowd 
of raucous-throated and hard-eyed cocottes. Ah ! 
there is something terrible, and also something 
eminently characteristic of Paris and her history, 
and the race of "tiger-monkeys" which inhabits 
it, in that strange panorama of wild laughter, mad 
dancing, sobs of despair, echoes of coming doom ! 

1 88 Some Old Love Stories 

And who will not think of all this as he reads 
this passage ? 

At this epoch, the opera balls were the resort of the highest, 
if not the most staid, society. On that evening there was a 
crowd. The Swedish gentleman wandered about among the 
masks, looking and admiring when a domino approached and 
began to coquet with him gracefully. The form was elegant, 
the voice was charming ; he lent himself willingly to the 
adventure which offered itself ; perhaps he had been seeking 
one. Although his conversation was not usually animated, it 
must be supposed that he acquitted himself well on the 
occasion, as the fair mask talked to him for a long time. 
There was whispering around them : who was his unknown ? 
At last as usual the secret came out, and to his astonishment 
he recognized the Dauphiness herself, who took as much 
pleasure in making herself known as she had derived from 
preserving her incognito. Unfortunately, the crowd also had 
recognized Marie Antoinette, and it gathered around the two 
with the ill-bred eagerness of curiosity which embarrasses, 
but is not embarrassed. The Dauphiness, to escape from 
this, had to retire to her box, where the Dauphin and the 
Comte de Provence, who had accompanied her on that 
evening, were awaiting her. Fersen left the scene at three 
o'clock in the morning, bearing away a more deep and 
vivid remembrance of this second meeting than of the first, 
and in his mind a new-born secret of sympathy with the 
radiant Princess. 

There was one other meeting — this time at 
Versailles, where the Court lived. Of that time all 
we know of Fersen's impressions is that he thought 
the " Dauphin danced very badly," — which doubt- 
less was true. There is a curious proof that Fersen 
impressed people considerably, in the fact that the 
Swedish Ambassador thought it worth while to 
make him the subject of a special and a very 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 189 

eulogistic despatch. Evidently this reserved, taci- 
turn young man, with the beautiful features and 
the impassive face, had the power of impressing 


Fersen left France after this brief visit, con- 
cluding the grand tour, which was then a necessary 
part in the education of all young men of rank. 
At the end of three years he returned, and pro- 
ceeded at once to Versailles. He immediately 
presented himself at the Court, where a gratifying 
surprise awaited him. Marie Antoinette was no 
longer the Dauphiness, but the Queen ; and when 
he appeared she immediately exclaimed — " Ah ! 
an old acquaintance." " The rest of the Royal 
family," reports Fersen to his father, " did not say 
a word." 

By this time, too, Marie Antoinette was in a 
position to entertain her friends after her own 
fashion. On New Year's Day, 1774, her husband 
had presented her with the Little Trianon ; and 
here she held those informal and pleasant little 
receptions which did so much to amuse her then, 
and by and by helped to create the storm of 
execration, before which she went down to bloody 

Fersen soon became a member of Marie's little 
set, and the Oueen was not cautious or self-con- 

190 Some Old Love Stories 

trolled enough to disguise the interest she took in 
him. Before long it was an open secret that 
Fersen was in love with the Queen, and it was a 
general impression that the Queen was in love 
with Fersen. 

I have already said that it was one of the faults 
of Marie Antoinette — she was so very human after 
all, poor thing — not to resent the impression she 
made. This feature in her character is put judi- 
ciously and amiably, but conclusively, by Rivarol, 
the Royalist pamphleteer — 

Always belonging more to her sex than to her rank, she 
forgot that she was meant to live and die upon a real throne ; 
she longed too much for the fictitious and fleeting empire 
that beauty confers upon ordinary women, and which makes 
them the queens of a moment. 

You see, I am not sparing Marie Antoinette. 
What I want to present of her is an honest and 
a lifelike picture, extenuating nothing nor aught 
setting down in malice. It should be added, too, 
that Fersen was by no means the sole admirer 
whose advances Marie Antoinette did not suf- 
ficiently discourage ; in short, she was a very 
pretty woman, — she knew it, — she liked to be 
told it. 


It were well for her that all her admirers had 
been as discreet, as humble, as unselfish, and as 
loyal as Fersen. What fondness there was, was 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 191 

shown not on his side, but on hers. There is a 
story of a scene one day in which the Queen 
almost openly avowed that she returned the passion 
which she had inspired — 

One day, when she was singing to her harpsichord, Fersen 
was by her side, and she was betrayed by her own music 
into an avowal which song made easy. Her eyes sought the 
Count's, while her voice uttered the passionate words of some 
fashionable opera, and his ill-disguised emotion emphasized 
an evident allusion. 

The compromising couplet is in these two lines 
from the now-forgotten opera of Didon — 

Ah ! que je fus bien inspiree 
Quand je vous regus dans ma cour. 

A Court is a school of scandal, a whispering 
gallery, a panopticon ; every wall has ears, every 
window has eyes, every tongue is filled with 
malice and evil sayings ; and especially was this 
the case in the Court of Marie Antoinette, where 
the agents and friends of the brothers-in-law who 
hated her, were at every corner. Indiscretions, 
such as that I have mentioned, did not pass 
unnoticed or unrecorded. It will, therefore, be 
understood what kind of a babblement broke forth 
when it was announced that after eight years of 
married life, Marie Antoinette was for the first 
time enceinte. There is a report — it is denied, and 
let us hope, for the sake of human nature, that it 
is untrue — that the King's brother, the Comte de 
Provence, was indecent enough to give sanction 

192 Some Old Love Stories 

to the current suspicion on so open an occasion 
as the christening of the new-born Princess, and in 
the church of Notre Dame. He was present as 
representative of the King of Spain, who was to 
be godfather of the child, and here is the story, 
which was current at that time, of his behaviour — 

The Grand Almoner, who officiated, having asked what 
name was to be given to the child, Monsieur answered— 
" But we don't begin by that ; the first thing is to know who 
are the father and mother." The sardonic tone in which 
these words were spoken gave them emphasis that could not 
escape anybody's attention ; and besides, they were let fall 
on well-prepared ground. 


It is needless to say that the report became 
universal that Fersen was the father of the new 
babe. Thus the position of the Queen became 
extremely serious, and it was impossible for 
Fersen and for her that things should continue to 
go on in the old way. Fersen adopted, therefore, 
a resolution which, like many another act of his, 
shows a chivalrous self-abnegation that must help 
to keep his name sweet. For the second time he 
resolved to fly the too subtle enchantment of the 
Queen's eyes. A sufficient excuse was necessary, 
and, fortunately, it was at hand. The expedition of 
Lafayette and Rochambeau to help the American 
patriots in the War of Independence, was in pre- 
paration. Many of the chief young noblemen of 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 193 

France were going ; Fersen announced that he 
was about to follow their example. 

Marie Antoinette was not slow to appreciate 
the magnitude of the sacrifice. She could not — 
perhaps she would not — prevent it, but she was 
unable to overcome the open expression of her 

We have a picture of this episode in the career 
of the Queen and Fersen more trustworthy than 
even the memoirs of the courtiers. Fersen's father 
was one of the most important men in the Court 
of Gustavus III., the King of Sweden; perhaps 
that may account for the fact that young Fersen's 
relations to the Court were considered important 
enough to be made the subject of a grave 
Ambassador's despatches. 

The fact, at all events, is, that the author of the 

work before me was able to unearth from the 

Swedish archives in Upsala the following letter, 

which was addressed to the King of Sweden by 

Count Creutz, his Ambassador in Versailles, on 

April 10, 1779. I need make no apology for 

quoting the document in full ; it is interesting not 

merely because of its historical importance, but as 

a picture of an episode in life — true, eloquent, and 

touching, — because it has all the naturalness and 

frankness of a document never intended for the 

public eye. 

I must confide to your Majesty that the young Count 
Fersen has been so well received by the Queen that several 


194 Some Old Love Stories 

persons have taken umbrage. I own that I cannot help 
thinking she has a liking for him ; I have seen indications 
of this too certain to be doubted. The young Count has 
behaved, under these circumstances, with admirable modesty 
and reserve, and his going to America is especially to be 
commended. By absenting himself he avoids danger of all 
kinds ; but it evidently required firmness beyond his years to 
resist such an attraction. During the last days of his stay the 
Queen could not take her eyes off him, and as she looked 
they were full of tears. I entreat your Majesty to keep their 
secret for yourself and Senator Fersen (the father of Count 
John). When the approaching departure of the Count was 
made known, all the favourites were delighted. "How is 
this, Monsieur?" said the Duchess de Fitz-James, "you 
forsake your conquest ! " " Had I made one," he replied, " I 
should not forsake it ; I go away free, and, unfortunately, 
without leaving any regrets." Your Majesty will own that 
the Count's answer was wise and prudent beyond his years. 
The Queen, moreover, behaves with much more self-restraint 
and prudence than formerly. The King not only entirely 
complies with her wishes, but shares her tastes and pleasures 

Let us not stop to inquire whether the young 
Swede spoke or suggested that which was not true 
when he gave his answer to the Duchess de Fitz- 
James. True or false, it is an answer which only 
a gentleman could have made. 


FOR three years Fersen is absent from France 
and from Marie Antoinette, and when he returns 
to Europe it is to find that both are drifting 
rapidly towards the mighty events of which we 
know. Fersen, for this and other reasons, gives up 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 195 

self-denying ordinances, asks and obtains through 
the influence of his King and his father, the position 
of Colonel of the Royal Swedes — one of the many 
foreign regiments in the service of France — and 
oscillates between Valenciennes, — where he is in 
garrison, — Paris, and the Little Trianon at Ver- 
sailles. Things have gone so far that the poor 
Queen may not have to care any more for appear- 
ances. The affair of the diamond necklace — the 
calumnies of the pamphleteers, the hatred of her 
husband's family, her own follies, personal and 
political — all together have made her name a 
rallying-cry of national hatred. She need not 
now be particular about her character ; she has 
no character to lose or to regain. 

Fersen is pretty constantly at her side. On one 
of his visits to the Trianon she gives him a minia- 
ture of herself and a pocket-book ; and on the first 
leaf there are written, in her own hand, a few verses 
in French, — tender, gay, and familiar. Fersen is 
at her side, I say, a loyal, brave, tireless friend ; 
but a prudent counsellor — no. It is, perhaps, a 
necessary part of his tenacious, clinging, faithful 
nature that he should have fixed opinions as well 
as stable affections ; and in the new order of things 
he can see nothing but rampant blackguardism, 
brigandage let loose, and all that is sacred and 
holy trampled under brutal and vulgar feet. Of 
all counsellors there can be no worse to this 
woman — also narrow, proud, obstinate, and heroic- 

196 Some Old Love Stories 

ally brave. And thus these two beings, brought 
together so strangely, aggravate their worst weak- 
nesses to the destruction of both. But that is a 
historical reflection ; for the moment let us give 
ourselves up to the purely human element in the 
story. And in those two hands stretched out to 
each other, above raging and murderous mobs, 
over frontiers, over seas of blood, through the 
walls of dungeons, in night and despair, and then 
past the gulf of death — there is a picture, the 
pathos of which will never cease to move the 
hearts of men and women. 


FERSEN watched the progress of the Revolution 
with the inflexible hatred of an inconvertible aris- 
tocrat, with a supreme and ineradicable contempt 
for the French character, — which he expresses often 
and naturally enough to prove its perfect sincerity 
and conviction, — and with the care for the Queen's 
safety as his chief and almost sole concern. 

As for her, the days came soon when the popu- 
lation were ready to pass from foul insult to actual 
assault; and in these days the figure of Fersen 
appears ever by Marie Antoinette's side, cheering, 
watching, ready to defend her, inseparable the two 
by day — inseparable also, say the gossipers and 
memoir-writers, by night — though on this point 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 197 

there is plenty of evidence and strong attestations 
from even unfriendly critics that frivolity was the 
full extent of Marie Antoinette's sinning. It would 
take me too far from my story to more than briefly 
allude here to those two awful days — October 5 
and 6, 1789 — when all the vice and violence, the 
hunger, the despair, and the suffering of Paris, 
overflowed to Versailles. It is a tale that scores of 
picturesque pens have described, and it concerns us 
not here, save so far as it relates to Fersen and 
Marie Antoinette. It will be remembered that the 
mob demanded and obtained admission for a 
deputation of the women to see the King; that 
the interview took place and was friendly on both 
sides ; that then tumult broke out again ; and that 
so for hours the mob surged round the Royal 
palace, every moment threatening to enter and 
plunder and kill. Finally came night, and the 
dreadful dawn ; then the shot from one of the 
King's bodyguards, and the death soon after of 
one of the national guards from Paris ; and finally 
the terrible overflow of the ferocious, maddened 
mob into the palace, hungry for bread, thirsting 
for blood. Let us go to Carlyle for a description 
of what followed — 

In a few moments the grate of the inner and inmost 
court, which they name Court of Marble ; this, too, is forced 
or surprised, and bursts open ; the Court of Marble, too, 
is overflowed ; up the grand staircase, up all stairs and 
entrances, rushes the living deluge ! Deshuttes and Varigny, 
the two sentry bodyguards, are trodden down, are massacred 

198 Some Old Love Stories 

with a hundred pikes. Women snatch their cutlasses, or 
any weapon, and storm in Menadic. Other women lift the 
corpse of shot Jerome, lay it down on the marble steps ; 
there shall the livid face and smashed head, dumb for ever, 
speak. Woe now to all bodyguards, mercy is none for them ! 
Miomandre de Sainte- Marie pleads with soft words on the 
grand staircase, "descending four steps" — to the roaring 
tornado. His comrades snatch him up by the skirts and 
belts, literally from the jaws of destruction, and slam-to their 
door. This also will stand few instants, the panels shivering 
in like potsherds. Barricading serves not. Fly fast, ye 
bodyguards ; rabid insurrection, like the hell-hound chase, 
uproaring at your heels. 

Meantime, this terrible deluge of hunger, savagery, 
and anger has, amid all its chaos and rushes, one 
definite cry and goal. Instinctively it knows that 
the real opponent with which the demands of the 
Revolution have to deal, is not the wavering, 
kindly, shy, poor man who is King, but the 
haughty, narrow, obstinate, and brave woman 
whom, to his ill-fortune and hers, he has wed ; and 
" Death to the Austrian woman " — except that they 
did not always call her " woman " — was shouted 
from thousands of ferocious throats. To her 
chamber, then, the deluge directed its uncertain 
and tumultuous course. Again let us go to 
Carlyle — 

The terror-struck bodyguards fly, bolting and barricading ; 
it follows. Whitherward ? Through hall on hall ! Woe ! 
now towards the Queen's suite of rooms, in the farthest room 
of which the Queen is now asleep. Five sentinels rush 
through that long suite ; they are in the ante-room, knocking 
loud. " Save the Queen ! " Trembling women fall at their 
feet in tears, are answered, " Yes, we will die ; save ye the 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 199 

Queen ! ' Tremble not, women, but haste, for lo, another 
voice shouts far through the outermost door, "Save the 
Queen ! " and the door is shut. It is brave Miomandre's 
voice that shouts this second warning. He has stormed 
across imminent death to do it ; fronts imminent death 
having done it. Brave Tardivet du Repaire, bent on the 
same desperate service, was borne down with pikes ; his 
comrades hardly snatched him in again alive. . . . Trembling 
maids-of-honour, one of whom from afar caught glimpse of 
Miomandre as well as heard him, hastily wrap the Queen, 
not in robes of state. She flies for her life across the CEil-de- 
Bceuf, against the main door of which, too, insurrection 
batters. She is in the King's apartment, in the King's arms ; 
she clasps her children amid a faithful few. The Imperial- 
hearted bursts into mother's tears : " Oh, my friends, save 
me and my children." . . . The battering of insurrectionary 
axes clangs audible across the CEil-de-Bceuf. What an 
hour ! 

BEFORE all this has taken place, Fersen has fled 
and— according to the story I have already glanced 
at — in disguise from the Queen's bed-room. But 
he did not go from the palace, for the danger had 
not yet disappeared ; indeed, for a while, danger 
was more threatening than ever. Lafayette had at 
last arrived, and had succeeded in stopping the 
wild rush of the mob on the rooms of the King and 
Queen, but the mob was still outside—" A roaring 
sea of human heads inundating both courts," as 
Carlyle puts it, "billowing against all passages. 
Menadic women, infuriated men, mad with revenge, 
with love of mischief, love of plunder." A further 

200 Some Old Love Stories 

symptom of the temper of this rabble is that the 
two hapless bodyguards — Deshuttes and Varigny — 
who had been killed, have been already beheaded ; 
and their heads, " on pikes twelve feet long," are 
already being paraded through the streets of 
Versailles. And above all other shouts rose the 
cry that k the King and Queen should accompany 
the mob back to Paris. It was then that Lafayette 
proposed a heroic and desperate remedy — 

" Madame," he ventured to say to the Queen, " what is 
your personal intention ? " In the hour of peril the daughter 
of Maria Theresa showed all the courage of her race. " I 
know the fate that awaits me," she replied firmly, " but my 
duty is to die at the feet of the King, and in the arms of my 
children." " Then, Madame, come with me ! " said Lafayette ; 
and he moved as though to lead her to the balcony, facing the 

I do not know where the author of this book 

gets the authority for his description of., what 

follows, for he gives no authority ; but if the 

narrative be true, it throws a curious light on the 

relations of Fersen and Marie Antoinette. In this 

picture, the Swedish officer becomes the arbiter of 

her fate at one of its most vital and tragic hours. 

Here is the narrative. 

Brave as she was, Marie Antoinette hesitated. "What, 
alone upon the balcony ? Have you not seen the signs that 
have been made to me?" In truth, those signs were equally 
terrible and expressive. " Yes, Madame, let us go there," 
insisted Lafayette, who risked his own life by this act. Fersen 
was present. By a look the Swedish gentleman gave fresh 
courage to the Queen of France. She decided instantly, 
and valiantly walked forward into the view of the people. 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 201 

Lafayette could not speak ; his voice would not have been 
heard. He resorted to a " hazardous but decisive sign " ; he 
took the Queen's hand and kissed it. This action worked 
an instantaneous change. Courage, daring, produced their 
usual effect ; the conquered crowd passed from rage to 
admiration ; a great clamour arose, carrying to the astonished 
ears of the actors in this scene, cries of " Long live the 
General ! " " Long live the Queen ! " 

This picture of the unhappy Queen — the woman 
for whose blood all that savage crowd was thirsting 
— who was about, at that moment, to ri?k all upon 
a single cast, with every chance of losing all — this 
picture of her looking, from all the thousands 
near and around her, to this one loved face for a 
sign, and, when given, accepting it without hesi- 
tation, is one of the most striking, significant, and 
pathetic in all the love stories of the world. In 
the relations between a man and a woman, which 
can inspire such a scene, there is a sublimity ; to 
that exchange of looks there is a framework of 
horror, terror, and then of cleaving of soul unto 
soul, unparalleled in human history. 

At last these terrible days of October 5 and 6 
came to an end ; the King and Queen had to set 
out for Paris, the faithful Fersen following among 
the members of the King's household ; and while 
Marie Antoinette seeks a dismantled bed and a 
rickety chair in the long-disused Tuileries, Fersen 
takes rooms in the Rue du Bac, to watch over her, 
plot for her, work for her, risk his neck scores of 
times to save her. 

202 Some Old Love Stories 


FOR, indeed, he risked his head by the part he 
took in preparing that attempt at escape which 
ended so disastrously at Varennes. It was a 
singular circumstance, and one that produced a 
good deal of angry and uncharitable comment, that 
the Queen should have selected a foreigner as the 
chief agent in carrying out this last attempt to 
escape from the iron bracelet of doom gradually 
tightening around herself and the King. For us 
the choice of Fersen is mainly important in reveal- 
ing the unquestioning confidence which he inspired 
in the Queen, and which, it will be seen, he deserved. 
It was he who was instrumental in obtaining the 
berline, or heavy travelling coach, in which the 
King and Queen, with their children, were to 
travel ; he attended to every detail, he tried the 
berline, he reconnoitred the roads, and finally, he 
came on the night of the flight to carry out the 
first and most dangerous part of the journey. It is 
characteristic of his thoughtfulness and thorough- 
ness, that in the berline there was a box with 
the articles of toilette for the Queen, and an ample 
supply of bcenf a la mode. It was he also who 
brought to the Queen the " plain and humble gar- 
ments " in which she was to disguise herself. 
Poor Marie Antoinette ! One of the many charges 
proved against her was that she helped to reveal 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 203 

the secret of her flight by the number of fine 
travelling dresses she ordered beforehand, and that 
she also impeded her movements by insisting on 
bringing two maids with her. Well, well ! 
Let us again to Carlyle — 

New clothes are needed ; as usual, in all epic transactions, 
were it in the grimmest iron ages. Consider " Queen Chrim- 
hilde with her sixty sempstresses" in that iron Nibelungen 
Song ! No Queen can stir without new clothes. Therefore, 
now, Dame Campan whisks assiduous to this mantua-maker 
and to that ; and there is clipping of frocks and gowns, upper 
clothes and under, great and small ; such a clipping and 
sewing as might have been dispensed with. Moreover, her 
Majesty cannot go a step anywhither without her Neces- 
saire : dear Necessaire of inlaid ivory and rosewood, cun- 
ningly devised, which holds perfumes, toilette implements, 
infinite small queen-like furnitures ; necessary to terrestrial 
life. Not without cost of some five hundred louis, of much 
precious time and difficult hoodwinking, which does not 
blind, can this same necessary of life be forwarded by the 
Flanders carriers — never to get to hand. All which, you 
would say, augurs ill for the prospering of the enterprise. But 
the whims of women and queens must be humoured. 

This characteristic passage puts the case against 
Marie Antoinette ; and, as I have already said, I 
have no desire to spare her. Indeed, it is well that 
we should understand her on all sides — her weak 
as well as her strong. It is the combination in her 
of all the faults and weaknesses of her sex that 
bring into greater relief her spirit, courage, and 
loyalty. It is a combination of weakness and 
strength that makes the womanliness in her, and 
makes her stand out as so interesting a study. 
We don't care much for the bravery of a virago. 

204 Some Old Love Stones 


At last the fateful June 20 came — the day 
fixed for the flight. Fersen had managed in some 
way or other to get frequent access to the Tuileries, 
in spite of the rigorous watch which was established 
over the King and Queen — for soldiers slept out- 
side every one of their doors ; and Fersen saw both 
the King and Queen in the evening just a few 
hours before the hour appointed for the start — 

They were expecting him, and in that last interview the 
respective characters of the three personages were revealed. 
Marie Antoinette, full of trouble and emotion at the approach 
of the hour of departure, full of fear for her children, her 
friends, herself, was in a state of nervous excitement, and 
wept profusely. Louis XVI., as passive as usual, listened 
to Count Fersen, who was cool and resolute. The Count 
reminded the royal couple of the dangers which they were 
about to incur ; but the King and Queen with one accord 
answered him that " there could be no hesitation, and that 
they must go." Time was flying. It was necessary that the 
Queen should go to the promenade with her children, accord- 
ing to custom, so that she might be seen there. At about 
six o'clock Fersen took leave and withdrew. " Monsieur de 
Fersen," said the King earnestly, " whatsoever may happen 
to me, I will not forget what you are doing for me." The 
Queen's tears spoke no less plainly to Fersen's heart. 

It was part of the plan that Fersen should 
himself take the King and Queen through the 
streets of Paris, to the spot where the berline 
was awaiting them. I go again to the inspired 
pages of Carlyle to describe the part of Marie 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 205 

Antoinette and Fersen in this great moment. I 
should premise that Gouvion — mentioned in this 
passage — was second in command to Lafayette, 
and that he had heard something of the intended 
flight from one of the Queen's women, who was his 
mistress — 

And Gouvion, distrusting his own glazed eyes, has sent 
express for Lafayette ; and Lafayette's carriage, flaring with 
lights, rolls this moment through the inner arch of the 
Carrousel — where a lady, shaded in broad gypsy hat, and 
leaning on the arm of a servant, also of the runner or courier 
sort, stands aside to let it pass, and has even the whim to 
touch a spoke of it with her badine — light little magic rod, 
which she calls badine — such as the beautiful then wore. 
The flare of Lafayette's carriage rolls past. All is found 
quiet in the Court of Princes ; sentries at their post ; 
Majesties' apartments clothed in smooth rest. Your false 
chambermaid must have been mistaken. Watch thou, 
Gouvion, with Argus' vigilance, for, of a truth, treachery is 
within these walls. But where is the lady that stood aside 
in gypsy hat, and touched the wheel-spoke with her badine ? 
Oh, reader, that lady that touched the wheel-spoke was the 
Queen of France ! She has issued safe through that inner 
arch, into the Carrousel itself; but not into the Rue de 
l'Echelle. Flurried by the rattle and rencounter, she took 
the right hand, not the left ; neither she nor her courier 
knows Paris, he indeed is no courier, but a loyal, stupid 
ci-devant bodyguard disguised as one. They are off, quite 
wrong, over the Pont Royal and river ; roaming discon- 
solate in the Rue du Bac ; far from the glass-coachman 
who still waits. Waits, with flutter of heart ; with thoughts— 
which he must button close up under his jarvie-surtout. 
Midnight clangs from all the city steeples ; one precious 
hour has been spent so ; most mortals are asleep. The 
glass-coachman waits, and in what mood? A brother 
jarvie drives up, enters into conversation, is answered cheer- 
fully in jarvie dialect ; the brothers of the whip exchange a 

206 Some Old Love Stories 

pinch of snuff; decline drinking together, and part with 
good-night. Be the Heavens blest ! here at length is the 
Queen-lady in gypsy hat ; safe after perils ; who has had to 
inquire her way. She too is admitted ; her courier jumps 
aloft, as the other, who is also a disguised bodyguard, has 
done ; and now, oh glass-coachman of a thousand — Count 
Fersen, for the reader sees it is thou — drive ! 


Count Fersen did drive through the sleeping 
city, and finally, at the Barrier de St. Martin, found 
the berline. The "glass coach" was drawn up 
alongside the berline ; the King and Queen, and 
the other occupants, passed from one carriage to 
the other without alighting ; and Fersen, jump- 
ing on the box of the berline, made for Bondy, 
and there bade the King and Queen adieu. It is 
characteristic of that care for others which Marie 
Antoinette always showed so nobly in hours of 
peril, that she insisted that Fersen should leave 
them at this point ; she feared that, being a 
foreigner, it would go harder with him than with 
the others. Besides, the separation was to last for 
but two days. In two days' time the King and 
Queen would be at Montmedy, in the midst of the 
loyal troops, and there Fersen would be among 
those glad friends who gathered around them. To 
Montmedy, then, Fersen set out. He had arrived 
at Arlon on his way thither, when whom should he 
meet in the street face to face but the Marquis de 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 207 

Bouille, the commander of the troops which were 
to receive and protect the King and Queen. 
Fersen did not require more to know that the 
expedition on which he had laboured for so many 
weeks, which he had started with such hope and 
with such success, had ended in black and complete 

Fersen did not stay to indulge in futile grief. 
It had been arranged between him and his Royal 
friends that he should go to Brussels in case of 
failure, to be free there to rouse Europe to arms 
in their defence. It was in Brussels, too, that 
he would find the Count Mercy d'Argenteau, the 
Austrian Ambassador of whose complaints about 
poor Marie Antoinette's neglect of her teeth we 
have already heard. Poor Fersen was to get the 
first of his disillusions about foreign intervention 
when he came to speak to the old-time servant of 
Marie Therese and the lifelong counsellor of her 
child. "// voit noir" — "he takes the gloomiest 
view," this is the entry in which Fersen records 
the impression he got of Mercy d'Argenteau's 
views of affairs. Among the relatives of the King 
— especially in his brother — who formed part of 
the emigration in Brussels — even bitterer deceptions 
awaited Fersen. They were all thinking of them- 
selves, their claims, their expectations, and their 

Amid it all there is a gleam of light. Marie 
Antoinette, whether she loved Fersen or not, was 

2o8 Some Old Love Stories 

at least able to appreciate the beauty and fidelity 
of his devotion. Between him and her, wherever 
she might be, whether in the palace or in the 
prison, there was an active correspondence. Even 
to-day there is something infinitely touching in 
the notes written by this woman's hand in face of 
the raging mob, of the hurricane of insult and 
execration, and under the shadow of the scaffold. 
Within a few days after the return from Varennes, 
Fersen received the following note — 

Be at ease about us ; we are alive. The heads of the 
Assembly seem inclined to behave with some kindness. 
Speak to my relations about taking steps from the outside ; 
if they are afraid, terms must be made with them. 

This was written on June 28. On the following 
day a second note, more touching and affection- 
ate, brought him a repetition of these assurances — 

I exist . . . how anxious I have been about you, and how 
I grieve for all you are suffering from having no news of us. 
May heaven permit this to reach you. Do not write to me ; 
it would endanger you ; and, above all, do not come back 
here under any pretext. It is known that it was you who got 
us out of this place ; all would be lost if you appeared. We 
are closely watched night and day. I do not mind that. . . . 
Be tranquil ; nothing will happen to me. The Assembly 
wishes to treat us gently. Adieu. ... I shall no longer be 
able to write to you. . . . 

The second of these letters is very characteristic. 
The anxiety it reveals for Fersen, the determin- 
ation to tranquillize his mind while there seem 
such grim and gathering clouds around herself — 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 209 

all this is proof of a fine heart. And then, what 
farewell in literature is more pathetic than this — 
"Adieu ; I shall no longer be able to write to you." 
But the correspondence was not to close at this 
point. From the papers that have been published, 
a new light is thrown on the period that followed 
the flight from Varennes, and it is evident that in 
the two years which elapsed between that episode 
and the death of Marie Antoinette, Fersen was — 
as this book puts it — "the chief secret agent 
between the Tuileries and foreign Courts." 

He was the centre of correspondence ; it was he who held 
all the threads of the schemes, interventions, and negotiations 
in which the captive Royal family were concerned ; and his 
action — completely unknown at that period, and hardly 
suspected twenty years ago, but now clearly revealed, through 
the publication of his papers, or at least such of them as his 
descendants thought proper to make known — throws an 
entirely new light upon this period of our history. 


Zeal, devotion unto death, energy that knew no 
fatigue, loyalty and affection that knew no ques- 
tioning — all these things Fersen had in abundance. 
Few stories of the loyalty which a Queen and a 
woman can inspire are fuller, or as full, of those 
sublime qualities. But looking at the whole story 
from a political point of view, it comes out with 
greater clearness than ever that Fersen and Marie 


210 Some Old Love Stories 

Antoinette between them had a terrible share of the 
responsibility for all the disasters that befell her, 
her husband, her children, and her dynasty. 
Indeed, Marie Antoinette — it is clear from the 
evidence published in this book — never cared for 
France, never really regarded it as her home ; was 
always ready to sacrifice French interests to the 
interests of her own country. Here is an ex- 
tract from one of her letters to her mother which 
alone suffices to prove that indictment against her : 
it was written in October 1778 — 

I have every motive for acting, for I am quite persuaded 
that the glory of the King and the good of France are con- 
cerned in this, without reckoning the welfare of my dear 

" Her dear country," Austria ! A very natural 
and almost irresistible feeling ; but not a feeling in 
which a Queen is at liberty to indulge who has, 
in taking a husband from another land, also sworn 
to make his people her people, and his gods her 
gods. Moreover, it has been proved that she 
actually thought it right to reveal the secrets of the 
Ministers of her husband in the interest of her 
native country. Here is the stern indictment, con- 
firmed by facts, brought against her on this point 
by a French writer — 

In concert with Mercy, she besets Louis XVI., deceives the 
Ministers, does all she can to get promises and agreements 
out of them in the presence of the King, whom she had 
previously persuaded, delays the couriers while she informs 
her brother of the decisions which they will bring, and so 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 211 

gives him time to guard against them. And then Joseph II. 
accepts our mediation, it is she who makes the conditions to 
be proposed to France more onerous, and she does this in 
a quick, business-like way, indicating the obstinacy of a 
rather crafty mind. This sort of thing goes on uninterrupt- 
edly for eighteen months, and certainly cannot be called a 
refusal to interfere in political matters, an attitude of impar- 
tiality and respect to the interests of the Austrian Court. 

I am able to touch but slightly, in such an essay 
as this, on one of the most important and interest- 
ing portions of Marie Antoinette's story — her 
relations to her husband's political views and acts. 
The documents bearing upon this part of her life 
have an intense human, as well as political interest. 
I cannot — though it will take me a little away from 
the immediate subject of this article — resist quoting 
one of these documents. It is written by Marie 
Antoinette to her brother at a time when France 
and Austria were in conflict. That is to say, it is 
written by the Queen of one nation to the ruler of 
the other ; and though the ruler was her brother, 
it was blind folly, if not downright treason, to 
utilize her position as the King's wife to help her 
own country against that of which she was one 
of the rulers. Here is the letter — 

I will not contradict you about the shortsightedness of 
our Ministry. I have spoken of it more than once to the 
King, but it would be necessary to know him to understand 
how I am restricted in means and resources by his character 
and his prejudices. He is naturally taciturn ; when I 
reproach him with not having spoken to me about certain 
matters, he does not get angry, but seems embarrassed, and 
sometimes tells me simply that it did not occur to him to do 

212 Some Old Love Stories 

so. M. de la Vauguyon alarmed him about the control his 
wife would try to exert over him, and, moreover, his black 
soul took pleasure in frightening him with all sorts of 
phantoms conjured up against Austria. M. de Maurepas 
thought it to his advantage to keep all these ideas in the 
King's mind. M. de Vergennes pursues the same plan, and 
probably makes use of his Foreign Office correspondence to 
employ treachery and lying. I have spoken of this to the 
King plainly, and more than once. He has sometimes 
answered me with displeasure, and, as he is incapable of 
discussion, I have not been able to persuade him that his 
Minister was either self-deceived or deceiving him. 


Here is a domestic interior painted to the life; 
its unconsciousness is its sublimity. Marie Antoin- 
ette, when she wrote it, was just twenty-nine years 
of age ; but she has not a moment of self-doubting. 
In the desire of the experienced Frenchmen who 
advised her husband in the interests of their own 
country she can only see ignorant partiality ; it 
never even occurs to her that she on her side may 
be lacking in judgment, experience, and, above all, 
in impartiality. It is this tremendous self-confidence 
in their own knowledge, which is so often shallow, 
in their own judgment, which is so often mere 
narrowness and personal prejudice, that makes 
women so often the worst and most perilous 
advisers of men in political crises. 1 

1 What made this complete self-confidence the more 
remarkable is that Marie Antoinette was constantly warned 
by her own people that it was quite unjustifiable. There is a 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 213 

And what a delightful picture that is of the poor 
King, seeking to evade the foolish and narrow 
advice of the stronger-willed and more persistent 
wife. " He is naturally taciturn, and when I reproach 
him with not having spoken to me about certain 
matters, lie does not get angry, hit seems embarrassed, 
and sometimes tells me simply that it did not occur 
to him to do so." Poor Louis ! It were far better, 
perhaps, that his apparent weakness, and not the 
Queen's strength, had dictated the policy of the 
Court during these days. There would have been 
a Constitution, it is true, and some trappings of 
royalty might have to be surrendered, and, per- 
chance, poor Marie Antoinette's wardrobe would 
have been less resplendent. But she and her 
husband might have died quietly in their beds. 

draft of a letter written to her by her brother, when she was 
obstructing Turgot in his reforms. It is a very curious and 
interesting document. " As far as I can understand," writes 
the Emperor, " you meddle with an infinity of things that, 
first of all, do not concern you, which you know nothing 
about. What business have you, my dear sister, to interfere 
with the placing of ministers, to get such a department 
given to this one, and such to that, in order to influence in 
favour of a particular law-suit, and to create a new and 
extravagant charge at your Court ? What studies have you 
made fitting you to mix yourself with the affairs of govern- 
ment of the French monarchy ? — you, an endearing young 
person, whose thoughts centre in frivolity, in your toilet, in 
your whole day's amusement, who never read or listen to 
reason a quarter of an hour in a month, who never reflect, 
never meditate, I am sure of it, never. Only the impression 
of the moment concerns you ; your only guides are the words 
and arguments of your proteges :" 

214 Some Old Love Stories 

It was, perchance, part of the charm of Fersen 
to Marie Antoinette that his intellect was as narrow, 
his principles as inflexible, his faith in the old 
order, his hatred of the new men, were just as great 
as her own. There is scarcely a word from his 
hand in all the documents published in these 
volumes which reveals a real insight into the events 
of those times ; and all the political words and acts 
which he dictated helped to bring about the Queen's 

However, I will not dwell now on that part of 
the story ; I return to the pleasanter part, which 
deals only with the strenuous efforts of Fersen to 
save the woman. It is a proof of the strength of 
the bonds which united them, that in spite of all 
the precautions which surrounded the Tuileries 
— the King was actually not let out of sight even 
when he was dressing — Fersen and Marie Antoin- 
ette managed to carry on an active and constant 
correspondence with each other. Here is how it 
was done. 

Before she was separated from Count Fersen she had 
arranged a cipher with him ; their letters would have kept 
the secret of their contents, even had they fallen into the 
hands of their enemies. They also adopted the device of 
writing with invisible ink between the lines of an insignificant 
correspondence. The modes of despatch were of various 
sorts. Sometimes the letters were confided to trustworthy 
persons like Baron de Goguelat. . . . Sometimes the papers 
were hidden in a box of biscuits, in a packet of tea or 
chocolate, in the lining of a garment, or in the binding of 
revolutionary works. The persons for whom they were 
ostensibly destined were mostly foreigners. 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 215 


Some of the letters, which thus passed between 
Fersen and Marie Antoinette, are published in 
these volumes. They have a morbid interest, 
especially in their abounding proof of the incurable 
political prejudices by which Marie Antoinette 
brought such awful destruction on all she held 
dear. The King, we know, had to accept the 
Constitution. "To refuse would have been more 
noble," is the comment of Marie Antoinette. 
" Make your mind easy," she writes to Fersen, who 
has heard that she is being influenced by Barnave 
and the Constitutionalists, " I am not going over 
to the extremists. If I sit or have relations with 
any of them, it is only to make use of them." And 
in the same letter — " The French are atrocious on 
every side." " Nothing is to be done with the 
Assembly," she writes in another letter, " it is a 
mob of scoundrels, madmen, and fools." And so 
on, folly on folly, madness on madness. 

And then, just as we are in despair over all this 
insane obstinacy, the mighty love of the mother, 
the heroic bravery of the woman, are brought 
before us, and once more we are conquered. Here 
for instance is a pathetic little picture in the midst 
of all that terrible tornado outside the Tuileries — 

As for myself I keep up better than I could have expected, 
considering my prodigious fatigue of mind, and that I go out 

216 Some Old Love Stories 

very little. I have not a moment to myself between the 
people that I must see, my writing, and the time that I must 
be with my children. The latter occupation, which is not 
the least, is my sole happiness, and when I am very sorrowful 
I take my little boy in my arms, I kiss him with all my heart, 
and that consoles me for a moment. Adieu, adieu once 

Now for one of the lion-hearted outbursts. She 
is complaining that the King, while " he is not a 
coward," for "he has a great passive courage," 
" is overpowered by shyness and distrust of himself." 
" He shrinks from commanding, and dreads beyond 
everything having to speak to an assemblage of 
men." And then comes the magnificent outburst — 

A Queen who does not reign must, under these circum- 
stances, remain inactive and prepare to die. 

" A Queen who does not reign,"— the longing of 
so many strong women that Destiny could change 
their sex has rarely been more finely expressed; 
but see likewise in this sentence the proof of the 
appalling and tremendous consequences which may 
come when the incurable disabilities of sex are not 
accepted. For it was this desire of " a Queen " to 
" reign " that helped to bring Marie Antoinette and 
her husband to the guillotine. 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 217 


Meantime our poor Fersen is eating his heart 
out amid the cold wariness of the Austrian Ambas- 
sador, the selfishness of the King's relatives, the 
divided counsels of the different monarchs — above 
all, the mere cunning and duplicity of the Austrian 
Emperor, Marie Antoinette's brother. And all 
the letters from Marie Antoinette, though they try 
to reassure him, only result in making him feel 
her misery more bitterly. At last some events 
bring matters to a crisis — Fersen can't stand it 
any longer. The first of these events is that his 
own King — Gustavus of Sweden — is fiery in his 
resolves to help the King and Queen, is tireless in 
proposals for their rescue, and finally proposes 
that another attempt should be made at flight. It 
is foolish, said the King of Sweden, to try and 
escape by the frontier. The proper plan is to try 
the sea. Let the King try his luck by making for 
Calais or for Ostend. Let him get an Englishman 
to help, for " these people are bold in action and 
generous," and above all, let the fugitives travel 
separately. But all these things require consulta- 
tion and arrangement between the Royalists and 
their friends outside, and so there must be an 
envoy ; and who can the envoy be but Fersen ? 

Fersen was not an incautious or thoughtless 

218 Some Old Love Stories 

man, and he would probably have seen the imprac- 
ticability of his King's plan if his judgment had 
been free from the distracting fumes of love ; but 
the prospect of seeing the Queen again overcame 
all the cold objections of reason, and so Fersen 
undertakes the mission. 

But Marie Antoinette will not have it. With 
the loyalty to her friends, even in her own darkest 
hours, which is a brilliant feature in her character, 
she remonstrates. The danger to Fersen, she 
declares, is even now greater than it was on that 
great night — it was only some months ago, but to 
Marie Antoinette, with all that had happened in 
between, it must have seemed something like the 
interspace of an eternity — the danger is greater 
than on that great night when he drove the glass 
coach on to Bondy — 

He had been indicted with the accomplices of the flight to 
Varennes, but his absences had saved him from arrest ; he 
was, however, still " contemned as contumacious," for he had 
not been included in the amnesty, which affected actual 
prisoners only. His relations with the Royal family, his par- 
ticipation in the Varennes scheme, were well known ; he had 
everything to fear if he were recognized. On this venture he 
staked his head. 

The resistance of the Queen was finally broken 
down, possibly for the same reason as that of 
Fersen's, and in Fersen's diary of January 21, 1790, 
appears the significant and fateful entry — " The 
Queen has consented to my going to Paris." 
Fersen required but the word. 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 219 

He began immediately to prepare for his mission, fixed 
his departure for February 3, and announced it to Marie 
Antoinette ; but a vexatious occurrence obliged him to alter 
his intentions. A report was spread that the King intended 
to escape by way of Calais, and Paris was in commotion. 
The Queen wrote to Fersen to postpone his journey until the 
decree respecting passports had been issued and tranquillity 
was restored. Then a few days later she again wrote to him to 
the effect that passports " for the individual " were required for 
everybody ; that the rumour of the King's intended escape 
had caused the watch kept upon the Royal family to be much 
more strict, and that he (Fersen) must relinquish a journey 
which had now become impossible. 


But the " vision splendid " of another interview 
with the Queen had by this time caught the 
imagination of Fersen, and he was not to be 
stopped ; and even if he were, a circumstance 
intervened which would have broken down even 
a stronger resistance than he was disposed to 
make to the loud calls of his heart. This was 
the arrival of M. de Simolin, the Ambassador of 
Russia to France. 

First M. de Simolin was a proof that one could 
cross the frontier in spite of the new passport 
regulation, and then Simolin had something to 
tell of the situation of the Queen. He, like 
Fersen, was a devoted friend of the Royal Family 
— " had seen the Queen in secret during his stay 
in Paris," and " gave his friend terrible news con- 

220 Some Old Love Stories 

cerning her." " The situation was dreadful," — 

such was M. de Simolin's story — " the danger was 

growing greater every day." And then Simolin 

repeated one of Marie Antoinette's lion-like 

utterances — 

I would rather submit to anything than live longer in the 
state of degradation I am in, for anything seems preferable 
to the horror of our position. 

Baron de Simolin added "that he had been 
moved to tears by hearing the unhappy woman 
speak thus," and even as he told the story again, 
" he again gave way to keen emotion." And at 
this moment the sympathetic fellow was on his 
way to Vienna to plead the Queen's cause and to 
deliver letters from her to the Emperor and the 
Empress. One can easily imagine the effect of 
all this on Fersen. There was no more hesitation ; 
he must go. 

The lessons of the disastrous journey to Varennes 
had not been lost on Fersen. Poor Louis had been 
betrayed largely by his allowing himself to be 
everywhere seen, and by the number of his com- 
panions. Fersen did not take with him even a 
single servant. His one companion was Reuters- 
vaerd, a fellow Swede, who had proved his 
trustworthiness, and who had been wholly trusted 
as a confidential messenger by Gustavus, the 
Swedish King — 

Fersen himself relates the precautions that were taken to 
put the French police off the scent, should they exhibit an 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 221 

indiscreet curiosity concerning the travellers. He was pro- 
vided with a letter of credit as Minister of the Queen of 
Portugal. Letters and a memorandum from the King of 
Sweden to the King of France were placed under cover, and 
addressed to him in that capacity. 

I cannot do better than continue the story of 
this perilous journey in the language of the 
author — 

They arrived at eight o'clock in the evening at Tournay, 
where they slept. At half-past three in the morning they 
set out again (this was Sunday, February 12), being only 
moderately easy in their minds, for Reutersvaerd had been 
talking with a M. D'Aponcourt, who had told him "he 
could not reach Paris for a full fortnight, as he would be 
stopped everywhere." M. D'Aponcourt was wrong : they 
crossed the frontier unmolested. " At Orchies nothing was 
said to them." They breakfasted at Bouchain and dined at 
Bonavy, were detained four hours at Peronne by an accident 
to their carriage, and reached Gournay, where they remained 
till the next day, at half-past one a.m. Notwithstanding the 
facility of their journey, the travellers were very prudent ; 
and Count Fersen, who was effectually disguised by a big 
wig, avoided the blunder that betrayed Louis XVI.; he kept 
himself well hidden in the carriage, and as much as possible 
avoided showing himself on any occasion. On Monday the 
13th, they stopped at Louvres to dine, and half-past five they 
entered Paris, well pleased to have reached the end of their 


ONE can well imagine the rush of feeling which 
must have come over Fersen's heart as once more 
he found himself in the French capital. He had 
not been there since that night of June 20, when he 

222 Some Old Love Stories 

drove Marie Antoinette from the Tuileries. She 
was still there ; but in what different circumstances 
— the Tuileries had been transformed from a 
palace to a prison ; and steadily, surely, swiftly, 
she was going along the road that ended in the 
tumbril and the bloody knife. 

Fersen alighted in the Rue de Richelieu at the 
Hotel des Princes ; and went in search of Goguelat, 
a faithful friend of the Royal Family, and one of 
his colleagues in preparing the flight that ended 
at Varennes. Goguelat was not at home, though 
Fersen had written to him that he was coming. 
Fersen went back to the Hotel des Princes, in the 
Rue de Richelieu, to find Reutersvaerd. There 
was no Reutersvaerd ; for he could not find a room 
in the hotel, and had gone — no one knew whither. 
Back again went our poor half-distracted Fersen 
to Goguelat's, and there he watched in the open 
street for hour on hour, until, when seven o'clock 
came, Goguelat appeared. 

You can see the rushing tide of feeling which 
was in Fersen's soul from the feverish hurry of all 
his movements at this moment. He had left 
Reutersvaerd before he could discover whether 
there was room for them in the Hotel des Princes, 
and he had not spoken to Goguelat for more than 
a few moments when " they took their way to the 
Tuileries without delay." 

And then came an intoxicating moment which 
must have been some compensation for all that 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 223 

weary and perilous road, for all those months of 
weary and sickening separation. For Marie 
Antoinette was there expecting him — alone. 

We have no details of that first interview ; and are obliged 
to be content with two lines in Fersen's journal, who again 
proves himself "a hero of romance, but not of a French 
romance," by his discreet reserve. Here is the entry : 
" Went to the Queen ; passed by my usual way ; fear of the 
National Guards ; not seen the King." 

Next evening Fersen saw the King ; visiting the 
Tuileries when it was dark ; and then the three 
discussed the plan of escape by the coast, which 
had been suggested by the King of Sweden. But 
the King would not even listen to the proposal ; it 
was mad, impossible, and besides, poor man, he 
had given his word not to attempt such a thing, 
and he must keep his word. " For," says Fersen, 
in a burst of admiration, " he is an honest man." 

I need not follow in detail the political discus- 
sions in which the three friends took part — though 
they have a keen human interest. Above all 
things do these discussions bring out that experi- 
ence which is the common lot of all who have been 
in a position to test human nature ; the baseness 
of those we have served, the generosity of others 
to whom we have never looked. " I have been 
forsaken by everybody," said poor Louis, in one of 
the rare outbursts which he permitted himself. 

Similarly the Queen — though in tones of bitter 
and more unsubdued pride. Her pride, indeed, is 

224 Some Old Love Stories 

instinctive and unconquerable. When later on she 
and the King are being taken to the Temple— 

Petion is afraid the Queen's looks may be thought scornful 
and produce provocation ; she casts down her eyes, and does 
not look at all. (Carlyle.) 

And she was then going to prison ! And a few 
days previously to this, when the King had 
returned to the Tuileries after his failure to rouse 
the troops to a last outburst of loyalty — 

Her Majesty bursts into a stream of tears. Yet, on stepping 
from the cabinet, her eyes are dry and calm, her look is even 
cheerful. "The Austrian lip and the aquiline nose, fuller 
than usual, gave to her countenance, ' says Peltier, " some- 
thing of majesty, which they that did not see her in these 
moments cannot well have an idea of." (Carlyle.) 


Speaking to Fersen's sympathetic ear, Marie 
Antoinette has no need to measure her words or 
spare her enemies. With one exception all the 
Ministers were " traitors " ; Cashier de Greville was 
a " wretched little lawyer at seven hundred francs 
a year " ; Narbonne thought only of himself, and 
was the lover of Mdme. de Stael. Then came the 
tale of the journey to Paris after that hour when 
she and Fersen had parted at Bondy. Yes, 
Gouvion had learned of the flight from Rocherette, 
who was his mistress; then there was the awful 
story of the return from Varennes ; thirteen hours 

Fersen and Mary Antoinette 225 

in the carriage — that fateful berime — "in intense 
heat, without daring to lower the blinds." 

But even in these times the lion-hearted woman 
had not forgotten her pride or her courage, as this 
significant episode will prove — 

Potion boasted of knowing everything. He told her that 
they took a hackney coach close to the Tuileries, and that it 

was driven by a Swede named ? pretending not to know 

the name — and then he asked if she could tell him. She 
answered, "I am not in the habit of asking the name of 
hackney-coach drivers." 

And then the six weeks that followed ! What 
odious, cruel persecution they had undergone from 
the watching and the spying — 

The officers of the National Guard always in the room 
adjoining theirs, and wanting actually to sleep in their room. 
It was with difficulty that they were made to remain between 
the double doors. They even came in during the night, to 
make sure that she was in her bed ; and one night the officer, 
finding she was not asleep, took a seat by the side of her bed 
and began to talk. But this was not all, a camp was formed 
under their windows, and day and night a constant racket 
and noise was kept up. 

It is one of the last interviews poor Marie 
Antoinette will have with a sympathetic and loving 
hearer ; she poured out her whole heart to Fersen, 
and Fersen's tears answered hers. 

As the Queen recapitulates all these wrongs and miseries, 
her thoughts turned to those who had forsaken and those 
who had served her. She could not refrain from owning that 
in general the former owed everything to her, and the latter 
nothing. So much ingratitude and so much fidelity aroused 


226 Some Old Love Stories 

many and deep emotions in her, and Count Fersen, sharing 
all her feelings, was moved to tears. 

" Thus ended an interview," saith our historian, 
"which did not lead, and could not lead, to any- 
practical result, but which at least gave Marie 
Antoinette a brief moment of happiness." 

There was nothing for Fersen now to do but 
to return to Brussels ; but as he had described 
himself as a " messenger " from Portugal, he had 
to go some distance from Paris. He went to 
Tours, and came back by Fontainebleau on 
February 19 — 

He did not venture to go to the Tuileries, but it was 
painful to him to abstain from doing so. He wrote asking 
whether there were any commands for him. The answer 
was an order to come and take leave of the King and Queen. 
Accompanied by Goguelat he entered the chateau for the 
last time, while his companion Reutersvaerd waited for him 
below in the square. He supped with the King and Queen 
took tea with them, and did not leave them until midnight. 
Fersen had beheld Marie Antoinette for the last time. 


FERSEN got back to Brussels after some adven- 
tures and some very narrow escapes from detection 
and arrest. Again in Brussels he sets to work to 
obtain rescue for the Queen — indefatigable, vehe- 
ment, and fatal. For it comes out clearly that 
many of the words and acts of the foreign 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 227 

monarchs, which roused France to fury, and there- 
by produced the levee en masse of the nation — 
the massacres, and the final downfall of the King 
and Queen — were the joint result of the inspiration 
of Marie Antoinette and Fersen. 

For instance, one of the things which did most 
to goad France to fury was Brunswick's pro- 
clamation declaring that every National Guard 
would be treated as a rebel ; that "all inhabitants 
who shall dare to defend themselves shall be put 
to death and their houses burnt;" that "if the 
least outrage be done to the Royal family, and if 
their safety be not immediately provided for," 
" their Imperial and Royal Majesties will hand 
Paris over to a military executive and to total 
overthrow." Our author states positively that this 
manifesto was due to Fersen, who, 

moved by the piteous cries of distress which reached him 
from Paris, and agonized by his utter powerlessness to save 
her whom he loved, poured out his wrath in this document, 
and by his influence induced the chief of the allied troops 
to adopt threats which he, Fersen, had often longed to 

Poor Fersen ! It was this manifesto that finally 
destroyed the hopes of his friends ; it was dated 
July 28. On August 3, the deposition of the 
King was demanded ; on August 8, there came 
that terrible invasion of the Tuileries which ended 
in the massacre of the Swiss Guards and in the 
flight of the King and Queen to the Assembly, 

228 Some Old Love Stories 

and, in fact, in the destruction of the Monarchy. 
This is what poor Fersen had accomplished by his 
fiery manifesto! Then followed the September 
massacres, the death of the Princess Lamballe, and 
the other horrors ; and Fersen at last feels that the 
terror which Brunswick's manifesto was meant to 
inspire, had really recoiled on the friend of the 
Royal family. " I have never been so much 
afraid," writes poor Fersen on September 16, and 
he had soon after to leave Brussels and fly further 
on for safety. 

Meantime the active correspondence between 
himself and the Queen went on. Amid it all — 
amid her revelations of the movements of the 
French troops — there are those outbursts which 
make you love her in spite of all her faults. 
Immediately after that terrible day in the Tuile- 
ries, when her head was demanded several 
times as she stood alone, separated from the 
King — it is recorded "her face never changed — " 
immediately after this she writes to Fersen — " Do 
not trouble yourself too much on my account. 
Take care of yourself for our sake," she writes in 
invisible ink, " and do not distress yourself about 

And in another letter she writes — " Our position 
is frightful ; but do not disquiet yourself too much." 
Just fancy this poor creature, immediately after her 
escape from being torn to pieces, having courage 
to try and cheer the spirit of her absent friend ! 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 229 

Indeed Marie Antoinette never lost heart till close 
to the end. " Perhaps," says our author, " this 
correspondence kept her up." 

Mdme. Campan, speaking of Marie Antoinette, says — 
" She was always awake at dawn of day, and desired that 
neither the outside shutters nor the blinds should be closed, 
so that her long, sleepless nights might be less wearisome. 
About the middle of one of these nights, when her room was 
lighted by the moon, she gazed at it and said to me that a 
month hence she should look at that moon when she should 
be loosed from her chains and see the King at liberty." 


After the death of the King, Fersen still strives 
to save the Queen. He is alternately in hope and 
in despair ; he thinks that Dumouriez will save 
her ; he importunes Mercy d'Argenteau, the 
Austrian Ambassador, is disgusted and horrified 
by the callousness of the wily diplomatist ; finally, 
he spends much time over a plan to save her by 
buying over Danton. There is a curious little 
note in which Fersen describes his interview with 
Dumouriez after that general had definitely aban- 
doned the Republicans, and had arrived in his 
flight at Aix-la-Chapelle. Fersen, of course, 
wanted to hear the latest news from Paris ; he 
was accompanied by his friend, Simolin. Here is 
how he describes the interview — 

We made our way through a crowd, and found him in a 
lower room. The windows were besieged by people. Three 

230 Some Old Love Stories 

aides-de-camp were with him. He recognized Simolin ; I 
introduced myself, and he paid me a compliment, saying that 
he ought to have known me by my handsome face. 

Thus our poor Fersen's good looks had passed 
into a saying. Ah ! those good looks — they ac- 
count for a great deal in human history. 

Meantime Marie Antoinette was approaching 
the final stages in her march to death ; and poor 
Fersen hears it all, days after of course, sometimes 
weeks; and in the pages of his journal we find 
recorded the story of his anguish, as thus — 

They say that the hackney coach which brought the 
unfortunate Queen to the Conciergerie was filled with blood ; 
that the driver did not know, but that he suspected whom she 
was, having had to wait a long time ; that on arriving at the 
Conciergerie, it was some time before they alighted ; that the 
men got out first and the women after ; that she supported 
herself on his arm, and that he found his coach all filled with 

" In vain does he add," comments our author, 
" ' but all this is not very authentic' Perhaps he 
strove to deceive himself. It was authentic ; these 
sad details are only too true." 

Time after time Fersen sits down to record the 
details of the Queen's sufferings. There is a 
reverence, an affection, a minuteness in the record 
which enables us, reading between the lines, to see 
how keenly Fersen felt it all. We can see him 
as in his mind's eye he conjures up, with love's 
painful power of second-sight, the agonies of the 
Queen — 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 231 

Her room was small, damp, and ill-smelling ; there was 
neither stove nor chimney ; there were three beds — one for 
the Queen, the other by the side of hers for the woman who 
served her ; the third for the two gendarmes, who never 
left the room on any occasion or under any circumstances 

And here are two final extracts which will 
reveal what Fersen felt in describing what another 
suffered ; here is the first — 

The Queen was dressed in a black loose jacket (caraco) ; 
her hair was cut short on her forehead, and quite grey at the 
back ; she was so thin that she could hardly be recognized, 
and so weak that she could scarcely keep herself upon her 
legs. She had three circlets on her fingers, but no jewelled 
rings. The woman who served her was a sort of fishwife, of 
whom she complained very much. The gendarmes told 
Michonis that Madame did not eat, and that if this went on 
she could not live ; they said her food was very bad, and one 
of them brought a small stale chicken, and showed it to 
Michonis. "There," he said, "is a chicken which Madame 
has not eaten, and it has been served to her these four 

This is the second extract — 

The Queen always slept fully dressed imblack, expecting 
every moment to be massacred or led to the scaffold, and 
wishing to go thither in mourning. Rougeville says that 
Michonis wept while confirming the statement of the 
haemorrhage from which the Queen suffered, and told him 
that when it was necessary to procure the black jacket and 
some indispensable linen for the Queen from the Temple, he 
could not go until after a " deliberation " of the Council. 

Then came October and the approaching trial 
of the Queen. By a curious coincidence Fersen 
met just at that moment the man who was the chief 

232 Some Old Love Stories 

agent in defeating the flight which began in the 
glass coach we have left so far behind us. The 
first alarm that ended in the stoppage of the flight 
at Varennes was given by a trooper named Drouet, 
who detected the King and revealed the secret in 
all the wrath of atrabilious patriotism. He was 
taken prisoner by the Austrians at Maubenge, and 
by a singular coincidence there thus met on foreign 
soil the chief agent in planning and the chief 
agent in preventing the escape of the Queen. 

" The sight of that infamous wretch put me into a fury," 
writes Fersen ; " and the effort which I made not to say any- 
thing to him on account of the Abbe" de Limon and the 
Comte de Fitz-James who were with us made me ill." 

And then came Marie Antoinette's execution. 
Fersen's comment — bald, unliterary — is nevertheless 
eloquent — 

Although I was prepared for it, and since she was trans- 
ferred to the Conciergerie have been expecting it, the 
certainty overcame me ; I had not strength to feel anything. 
I went out to speak of this misfortune with my friends Mdme. 
de Fitz-James and Baron de Breteuil, whom I did not find. 
The Gazette of the 17th speaks of it. It was on the 16th at 
half-past eleven that this execrable crime was committed, and 
the Divine vengeance has not yet fallen upon the monsters ! 

It may be remembered that the Duchess de 
Fitz-James was the Court lady who in happier days 
reproached Fersen for deserting his " conquest " 
when he went to America. 

And here is Fersen's final word — 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 


" I can think only of my loss," writes Fersen, a few days 
later. " It is dreadful not to have any positive details. That 
she should have been alone in her last moments without 
consolation, without any one to speak to, to hear her last 
wishes ! That is horrifying ! The monsters of hell ! No ; 
without vengeance my heart will never be content." 

But, as M. Gaulot writes—" It is not granted to 
Fersen's love either to save Marie Antoinette or to 
avenge her." 


FERSEN lived for seventeen years after the 
death of Marie Antoinette, and he died as he had 
lived — as one should do, whose dramatic life 
required a fitting close. He had many griefs 
before he died, and the " handsome Fersen " of 
former days became "a moody and melancholy 

The King of Sweden — Marie Antoinette's fiery 
and vehement friend — had been succeeded by his 
son Gustavus IV. Gustavus IV. loved Fersen and 
loaded him with honours, but when Gustavus fell 
his Minister fell along with him. Fersen was very 
unpopular — we have seen enough of him to under- 
stand that he could not be a popular Minister. With 
the deposition of Gustavus, Fersen's preferment 
ended, and soon after his unpopularity reached a 
climax and ended in a catastrophe. The Duke of 
Sudermania, who had been proclaimed King in 
succession to Gustavus IV., being childless, had 

234 Some Old Love Stories 

adopted Prince Christian of Holstein-Augusten- 
berg as his heir ; the heir died soon after, very 
suddenly, and at once the cry was raised that he 
had been poisoned in the interests of the fallen 
dynasty ; and that Fersen, who was regarded as 
the rallying-point of the old order, was at the 
bottom of the plot. It is said that the popular 
passion was fed by money and by drink, and 
the new King, who hated and dreaded Fersen, 
dropped an impudent, or perhaps an intentional 
hint, that, after all, Fersen deserved a lesson. 

The dead heir was to be buried publicly, and 
on June 20, that day of days, when, nineteen 
years before, Fersen had driven Marie Antoinette 
from the Tuileries on the great but disastrous 
break of liberty. Fersen must have thought of all 
that as, in his position as Grand Marshal, he 
went " in full ceremonial dress," and in " the gilded 
coach drawn by six white horses," to meet the 
funeral procession outside the city ; especially as 
he had been told of the danger that threatened him. 
But Fersen went on. 

When the procession entered the city it was 
received with insulting shouts ; the mob spat on 
Fersen's coach, abused him, menaced him, and 
finally tore up stones from the pavement and flung 
them at his carriage. At last they flung themselves 
on the coach, unharnessed the horses, and dragged 
Fersen out. He escaped into a cafe, but the 
crowd followed him in, tore off his decorations, 

Fersen and Marie Antoinette 235 

his cloak, and his sword, and flung them out of the 
window, and then dragged him out into the street 
again. The troops came up, but it was not their 
business to rescue an enemy of the King, and 
Fersen was left to his fate. He was dragged to 
the Hotel de Ville — 

There, although surrounded by the mass of his tormenters, 
he had a moment's respite. They seemed to grant him this 
breathing-space from an impulse of pity. Seating himself 
upon a bench, he asked for a mouthful of water ; it was 
brought to him by a soldier of the City Guard. But the mob 
began again to threaten him with death, and to reproach him 
with having poisoned the Crown Prince. They struck him 
with their fists and their sticks, they tore out his hair and 
also his ear-rings, with pieces of the flesh. The people out- 
side, closely packed in the courtyard of the Hotel de 
Ville, shouted to them to give up Count Fersen. . . . Again 
they dragged him out ; they flung him down on the staircase, 
and there, in the courtyard, the ruffians completed their 
crime. At length the victim, trampled under the feet of those 
bloodthirsty brutes, uttered his last groan. Their fury was 
not slaked by his death ; they fell upon the corpse, stripped 
it, mutilated it, and carried the fragments about the town. 
. . . The deed was done between twelve and two o'clock 
in broad day, in the city of Stockholm, under the regular 
government of a legitimate King. 

After I had finished my narrative of the lives of 
these two people, whose love and its tragic end 
had so much likeness, who each reached the 
greatest depths of tragedy, I turned to their 
portraits at the beginning of the book. Marie 
Antoinette looks out at us in the perfection of 
her beauty — with fine eyes, with proud look ; the 
full bosom is covered with delicate and beautiful 

2^6 Some Old Love Stories 


lace, the lips have the smile made for love, 
laughter, and joy. Fersen is taken as he might 
have looked when, a boy of nineteen, he first saw 
the Queen : the forehead is high, the nose straight, 
the lips beautifully curved ; there is a look of 
infantile delicacy and freshness and sweetness in 
the beautiful face. The unexpectedness of human 
destiny, the inevitableness of human woe, could 
not be much more eloquently expressed than by 
the contrast between these two lovely and tender 
faces and the lots of those to whom they belonged. 



THERE are few events in literary history which 
have produced so much controversy as the publi- 
cation of Froude's Memoirs of Carlyle and his 
wife. It is hard to determine which, of two of the 
greatest literary spirits of our time, suffered the 
more in the discussion which these famous volumes 
provoked. The veneration, and even affection, 
which Carlyle had conquered for himself from 
almost the entire world in the majestic sunset of 

1 Carlyle's Early Life, i vols., by J. A. Froude. Long- 
mans. Carlyle's Life in London, same author, same pub- 
lishers. Letters and Memorials of Mrs. Carlyle, same author, 
same publishers. Reminiscences of Thomas Carlyle, edited 
by J. A. Froude ; same publishers. Life of Jane Welsh 
Carlyle, by Mrs. Alexander Ireland. Chatto & Windus. 
Carlyle (in English Men of Letters), by John Nichol. Mac- 
millan. Portraits des Femmes: Madame Carlyle, par 
Madame Arvede Barine. Hachette. New Fragments, by 
Professor John Tyndall. Longmans. Edinburgh Sketches, 
by Professor David Masson. Adam & Charles Black. 
Literary Recollections, by Francis Espinasse. Hodder & 


238 Some Old Love Stones 

his long, dark, and disturbed day, were dissipated 
in the course of the single week after these 
Memoirs had appeared ; and there succeeded a 
dislike and a disrespect that have gone the length 
of dimming, in some minds at least, the glorious 
splendour of his genius. And as this work of 
disillusion was done by the hand of one of his 
dearest friends, the friend lies, and will probably 
always lie, under the charge of having been an 
unfaithful and guilty guardian of the reputation 
he ought to have preserved and helped to glorify. 
I do not share these views. The highest testimony 
that any man — author or otherwise — can give is 
to truth — truth benignant or cruel, flattering or 
horrible, disheartening or stimulating. And on 
what subject is truth demanded more sternly from 
the conscientious writer than on that great and 
complex problem, human life ? and of all problems 
in human life, on which again is truth so important 
as in the story of that double life in one, with its 
joys, terrors, its infinite capacities for happiness 
or woe — the union of man and woman? If ever 
there was a man who preached the moral that a 
life truly told was a need, an enlightenment, and 
a duty to humanity, it was Carlyle : and assuredly 
nobody had a better right. To the science of the 
world he has contributed nothing ; to the political 
thought of the world, nothing, or worse than 
nothing; to the history of the world, his contri- 
butions are of very doubtful value ; but on that 

Carlyle and his Wife 239 

great subject, the study of the human heart and 
human soul, he has told more than almost any 
man of his time or of any other time. Where, 
outside Shakespeare, is there a portrait gallery so 
rich, so picturesque, so faithful, so full of photo- 
graphic truth, lurid insight, morals and lessons, 
finely preached, as that which is to be found in his 
splendid pages ? And all these numerous volumes 
of his would be so much waste-paper if it were not 
that he has sought throughout them all to give to 
the world the story of human life, as he understood 
it, faithfully, honestly, and bravely. The solemn 
heritage he left to his friend was that he should do 
by him as he had done by others. It is true that 
Froude has placed Carlyle standing penitent, bare- 
headed, and humbled in the immortal market-place 
of history ; but this lonely old man that is thus 
revealed to us, stripped of his glory by his own 
hand, striking his forehead in his despair and 
shame, and casting ashes on his own head that 
otherwise might be covered with a crown of light 
— is there not in it something worthy of him at his 
best ? is there no dignity and loftiness as well as 
humiliation in the picture ? In all Confessions 
there is an element of egotism, perhaps of self- 
glorification, strong though unconscious ; but in 
this picture of all that was gloomy, selfish, and 
awful in his own life, the materials for which 
Carlyle deliberately bequeathed to his nearest 
friend, I find Carlyle's logical and honest fulfilment 

240 Some Old Love Stories 

of his own lifelong gospel — that the world should 
know life in its truth, naked, bleak, and chill ; and 
a deliberate perpetuation of the self-abasement by 
which, in all the recoil of remorse, he sought to 
atone for his cruelty and selfishness to his wife. 


THE publication of these Memoirs of Carlyle 
and his wife have found further justification, if that 
were needed. It is important to the world that 
Carlyle should be known as he really was. To 
have sent him down to posterity as a serene philo- 
sopher and a blameless prophet, would have been 
to perpetuate a great lie. The world has more 
lies than it can stand already, and it would be 
justified in especially resenting an addition to the 
stock from two men who, above others, preached 
the supreme obligation of truth. It was almost 
as equally important that the world should be 
made to know the real Mrs. Carlyle. One of the 
results of these Memoirs has been to make us 
understand that the woman whom the mighty 
genius and the arrogant selfishness of Carlyle so 
overshadowed, was almost his equal in literary 
gifts, and vastly his superior in courage, in unself- 
ishness, and generally in character. To have 
suppressed the picture of Mrs. Carlyle dead, would 
have been an ignoble addition to the wrong which 

Carlyle and his Wife 241 

had been done to the living woman. They are 
false friends of Carlyle or of Froude who would 
have made them parties to such a fraud upon the 
memory of the dead, and upon their own high 
ideals of personal and literary conduct. 


There is something even more to the purpose. 
Carlyle the writer is immortal. When you have 
said your last word against his wild judgments, his 
exaggerations, his affectations and contortions of 
style — and all these objections you can make with 
justice — he remains the most vivid, powerful, and 
entrancing writer of English prose in our century. 
But I have come almost to the conclusion that 
Carlyle the man — and still more Carlyle the hus- 
band — will be as potent and lasting a memory as 
Carlyle the writer. In the Memoirs of him and 
his wife we have a household laid bare by two 
pens, bereft of all the reticences of real or false 
shame, and gifted beyond most others with the 
power of vehement or subtle description. The 
problem of the union of man and woman must 
always remain the supreme and central question 
of society ; and here is a contribution to its elucid- 
ation and its literature, richer than any the world 
has yet received. At no time was such a contri- 
bution more needed than at this hour. It is no 

242 Some Old Love Stories 

exaggeration to say that the relations of men and 
women are at this moment undergoing a bolder, 
more honest, and more pitiless analysis than in 
any generation since the great upheaval at the 
close of the last century. And in the end of our 
century we have to some extent a new factor in 
the great arbitrament : we have the voice of woman. 
It is true that in the last century, as in most cen- 
turies of French history, woman played a large 
part. In our own country, however, woman has 
become articulate on her inner thoughts, her 
claims, her wrongs, for the first time in the 
memory of even youths among us ; and in the 
France of the last century, and even in the France 
of to-day, the liberty of discussion, of influence, 
large as they are, which are allowed to woman, 
stop short at the frank revelations of her own soul, 
and the control of her own lot 


The pathos of Mrs. Carlyle's life as a wife 
and an elderly woman is brought into fuller 
relief by the background of her gay, audacious, 
and pampered childhood. It is hard to imagine 
what further gifts, apparently, fortune could have 
bestowed on a woman. She was pretty ; she 
was brilliant ; she was rich and well-born accord- 
ing to the scale of her surroundings; and she was 

Carlyle and his Wife 243 

an only child. All the testimony I have been able 
to find, agrees in representing her as having that 
brightness and joyousness of temperament which 
is a more opulent heritage than money or beauty 
or genius. 

She was born on July 14, 1801, in Haddington. 
In her being mingled blood so antagonistic as that 
of John Knox and of gipsies. How far these 
hereditary influences survived in her generation 
it is hard to say ; but we may trace in such a 
descent the complexity of her own character — its 
waywardness, its gaiety, its sternness of creed, and 
its hardness of heart. 

In her case the child was eminently the mother 
of the woman. There was a rigidity of line in the 
main features of her character which makes a cer- 
tain uniformity in her life. She was precocious in 
everything — in learning, in daring, and in aggres- 
siveness. As a girl she might be briefly described 
as a very brilliant and very attractive specimen of 
the " tomboy." She once fought a boy with bare 
fists. A parapet or a ledge over Haddington 
stream had one of those points of danger which 
fascinate and appal boys. Jeanie Welsh got up 
one morning early, " went to Nungate Bridge, lay 
down on her face on this ledge, and crawled from 
one end to the other, at the imminent risk of 
breaking her neck by a fall into the river beneath." 
Then she had a characteristic habit at this period, 
which has as a sequel one of the most pathetic 

244 Some Old Love Stories 

incidents of her life. I tell it as it is charmingly 
told by Madame Arvede Barine, in her excellent 
essay on Mrs. Carlyle — 

In Haddington, when anybody saw a young girl perched 
on a wall, they said at once, "That's Dr. Welsh's daughter." 
A long time after her marriage, when she could pluck up 
courage to return for the first time to the spot where she had 
been so happy, nobody could recognize her, so greatly had 
cares, even more than years, aged, withered, and wasted her. 
But a passer-by guessed her name, by an instinctive revival 
of memory, when he saw her mount a fence. " That's Jeanie 
Welsh," he cried ; " no other woman would climb a wall 
instead of going through the door. Yes, you're Jeanie 

Similarly, in learning, she always longed to do 
as boys did. Her mother clung to the old-fashioned 
gentility, which regarded any feminine knowledge, 
beyond the usual accomplishments, as almost im- 
proper : the father, a broader and more sympathetic 
nature, took the daughter's side. The question 
was settled when the child repeated a Latin 
declension which she had learned from a boy, and 
triumphantly cried, " I want to learn Latin, please 
let me be a boy." She was allowed to learn 
Latin, and she did so to such good purpose that 
she was able to translate Virgil when she was nine 
years of age. In the same way she showed a taste 
for mathematics, and other highly ungenteel and 
unladylike tendencies, as woman was understood 
in the early years of our century. She is said to 
have been similarly clever in working out problems 

Carlyle and his Wife 245 

in Euclid. The ardour of her temperament showed 
itself in the energy with which she devoted herself 
to these studies. She used to get up at five 
o'clock in the morning, and would tie a weight 
to her ankle lest she should not wake early 
enough. There is always to me something pathetic 
in these heroic struggles after self-culture of the 
young. It is part of the dream and prospect of 
the perfectibility in all things which is their first 
vision and first conception of this decidedly im- 
perfect world. The perfection has to begin with 
themselves. Their whole energies used to their 
utmost strength : their time occupied worthily in 
its every minute : their minds trained to their 
utmost capacity — everything, in fact, brought to 
symmetry and perfect melody — such is the dream 
of the young student. And the pathos is deep- 
ened in the case of a woman ; for after all, little 
of the supreme realities of her life depend on all 
these heroic strivings, and on these things which 
she then regards as the supreme considerations of 
life. Her heart, her temperament, above all, the 
choice of her mate : these are the things which 
will make or mar her life, and not the gift to 
translate Virgil or master Euclid. And her fate 
as to these supreme issues is left to the dark 
guidance of childish ignorance. 

To the knowledge of Latin, Jane Welsh in her 
girlhood added the knowledge of French and 
Italian. She filled the usual precedent of pre- 

246 Some Old Love Stories 

cocious characters in perpetrating a tragedy — 
happily not extant ; and then, and afterwards, 
she showed some ability in pretty and tender 


When she was just eighteen she met her first 
great sorrow — a sorrow greater than even she 
knew in all the blackness of her despair. Of her 
two parents, she loved her father the better ; 
perhaps he was the worthier of love. All the 
memories of him are beautiful. He was very 
handsome ; he was intellectual ; the whole county 
believed in his skill as a physician, and loved him 
as a man. The mother was a beautiful woman ; 
and even Carlyle, who did not love her, could but 
acknowledge that she always was clever ; but she 
was wayward and domineering. One of her 
relatives said he had seen her in fifteen different 
humours in the course of a single evening. She 
and her daughter loved each other deeply, but 
could never get on well together. 

The father, on the other hand, was adored by 
his daughter, and he returned the affection with 
interest. The extent of his practice, and the long 
distances of his district, compelled him to take 
many drives. It was on one of these drives that 
he had his last conversation of any length with his 
daughter. The conversation has been recorded by 

Carlyle and his Wife 247 

the daughter's husband. It was full of the sage 
generalities with which the poor blind male parent 
seeks to penetrate the dark labyrinthine recesses 
of a young maid's mind. The great effect it had 
on the daughter was probably due to the fact that 
it was the first sign of confidence from the parent 
to the child — one of childhood's first and most 
delicious experiences. The next day he was down 
with malignant typhoid fever ; after an illness of 
four days he died. If any one requires proof of 
the intensity either of Jane Welsh's affections or 
her power of description, he has only to read the 
touching letter in which she describes her sense of 
her first great sorrow. 

But, as I have said, the loss was greater than 
even she could have imagined ; for she was now 
left without the one friend who could direct her. 
And she was a girl who badly wanted guidance. 

A fundamental fact in the tragedy of her life — 
as I read it — is that Mrs. Carlyle was of ardent 
imagination and of ardent senses rather than of 
tender heart ; in other words, accepting the French 
distinction, that she was a femme passione'e rather 
than a femme sentimentale. A woman of such a 
type is always in peril : she may be swept off her 
feet by some fancy, with no foundation worthier 
or more solid than the action on an ignorant 
and ardent temperament of a physically attractive 
man. A woman may be happy in a union that 
has so inauspicious a beginning by a lucky dip in 

248 Some Old Love Stories 

the lottery of marriage ; or she may be saved from 
an awakening by a want of intelligence. But Jane 
Welsh had a keen intelligence as well as an ardent 
temperament ; and the keenness was of just the 
kind to bring her emotions and her intelligence 
often into conflict. She had an essentially critical 
— it may even be said censorious — mind. Mrs. 
Ireland, her enthusiastic eulogist, admits she " was 
not apt to attribute lofty and beautiful motives to 
any one." Add that she had a tongue and a pen, 
biting, witty, and harsh, and you have a decidedly 
perilous combination. And add on top of that, 
that to her last day Mrs. Carlyle had all the love 
and admiration — at least so I am told — of a spoiled 
beauty ; and you have a woman in all the multi- 
tudinous weaknesses of her sex, side by side 
with an intelligence and character of masculine 


ALL these qualities are to be found in the study 
of her girlhood by herself. Her early letters are 
full of young men who have caught her fancy. A 

"Benjamin B " has appeared to her "one of 

the most frank, unaffected young men I have 
seen." A year or two later she met him, but he 
is on the opposite bank of the river ; and this is 

Carlyle and his Wife 249 

the warm language in which she relates this 
incident — 

Let any human being conceive a more tantalizing situa- 
tion ! I saw him, I durst not make any effort to attract his 
attention, though, had my will been consulted in the matter, 
to have met him eye to eye and soul to soul I would have 
swam — ay, swam across at the risk of being dosed in water- 
gruel for a month to come ! . . . Providence has surely some 
curious design respecting this youth and me ! It was my 
birthday we parted — it was on my birthday we met, or (but 
for that confounded river) should have met again. 

Years afterwards, the gentleman so enthusiastic- 
ally described had become " the most disagreeable 
person on the planet." 

A more serious affair was that with George 
Rennie. Rennie is familiar to the readers of the 
Letters and Memoirs of Mrs. Carlyle as " a clever, 
decisive, very ambitious, but quite unmelodious 
young fellow, whom we knew afterwards here (in 
Chelsea) as sculptor and M.P." But to young 
Janie Welsh, George Rennie was not so unme- 
lodious. " Oh, wretch ! " she writes of him at the 
time of his courtship of her, " I wish I could hate 
him, but I cannot. . . . And when Friday comes, 
I always think how neatly I used to be dressed, 
and sometimes I give my hair an additional brush 
and put on a clean frill, just from habit. Oh ! the 
devil take him ! " 

And finally, when, perhaps, the "decisive" young 
man grew tired of Jenny Welsh's waywardness 
and indecision, she writes to a friend — " I had not 

250 Some Old Love Stories 

heard his voice for many a day, but then I had 
heard those who had conversed with him. I had 
seen objects he had looked on, I had breathed air 
he had breathed." And describing her leave- 
taking she says — " I scarcely heard a word he 
said, my own heart beat so loud." Years after, 
Mrs. Carlyle went, at the request of the other 
woman who had become Mrs. Rennie, to George 
Rennie's death-bed. 

Finally, before going on to another affair — the 
most serious of them all next to her marriage with 
Carlyle — it is worth noting that at this period 
Jenny Welsh was a devoted admirer of Rousseau 
and of the characters in La Nouvelle Heloise. It 
was, perhaps, her spiritual intimacy with these 
heroes and heroines of fiction that helped her to 
despise her local lovers. She writes to a friend in 
1822 — 

No lover will Jane Welsh ever find like St. Preux, no 
husband like Wolmar ! (I don't want to insinuate that I 
should like both), and to no man will she give her heart and 
pretty hand who bears to these no resemblance. George 
Rennie ! James Aitken ! Robert Macturk ! James Baird ! 
Robby Angus ! O Lord ! O Lord ! Where is the St. 
Preux? Where is the Wolmar? 

It is also characteristic of her bold and frank 
nature that she — an unmarried young Scotch- 
woman, be it remembered, of the early days of 
this century — was able to comment on Julie 
Etange, the heroine of Rousseau, that though she 

Carlyle and his Wife 251 

"does not wish to countenance such irregularity 
among her female acquaintances," she declares that 
" were any individual of them to meet with such a 
man, to struggle as she struggled, to yield as she 
yielded, and to repent as she repented," she " would 
love that woman better than the chastest, coldest 
prude between John o' Groat's House and Land's 
End." Such views in one who had gone through 
the broadening and softening experiences of life 
and its complexities might be passed and even 
approved ; in a young unmarried girl in a rustic 
village they mark a somewhat perilously inflamed 


Edward Irving had become master of the 
school at Haddington when he was between seven- 
teen and eighteen years of age. At this period he 
was a very tall, handsome, and winning young man. 
Dr. Welsh, anxious to give his brilliant daughter 
every chance of learning, asked Irving to give her 
private lessons in addition to those she received 
in the school. From the first, master and pupil 
took to each other ; and later on, they loved each 
other. Irving saw the faults of Jane Welsh : and 
spoke to her of them with a boldness on which only 
a teacher could have ventured with so arrogant 
and caustic a young lady. He accused her of using 
in her " satire and scorn " the " arts of cruelty " : 

252 Some Old Love Stories 

and he even made the cruel, biting rebuke that she 
seemed "to contemplate the infirmity of others 
rather from the point of view of ridicule and 
contempt than of commiseration and relief." 
The language is characteristically Scotch and 
ecclesiastical; but the meaning is clear enough. 
Irving meant to say that Jane Welsh was cynical 
and ill-natured. But he loved her— as it is so easy 
to do when the cruel-tongued minx is eighteen 
and brilliant and beautiful ! And she loved him : 
and the disaster in which they both ended was 
begun and was prepared in this love of their early 

Irving had become engaged to a Miss Martin 
before this passion for Jane Welsh had come. 
When he found out unmistakably the state of his 
heart, he summoned up courage to tell Miss 
Martin's father of the difficulty that had arisen : 
but father and daughter held Irving to his bond : 
and Irving and Jane Welsh had to separate. 
Whether, if they had married, the lot of either 
would have been happy, who can tell ? But there 
are one or two things which one can say with 
some assurance. It is certain that Irving and 
Jane Welsh could not have done worse than they 
actually did. They were each driven into a 
loveless marriage : and whatever element may 
be wanting in a marriage, and yet allow it to be 
tolerable, the absence of love is nearly always 
disastrous with such natures as these two had. 

Carlyle and his Wife 253 

It was certainly disastrous in their case. I don't 
know which of the two one must regard as having 
ended more calamitously — Irving's life-struggle 
and heart-weariness going out in mere insanity 
after the delirious ravings of popularity, preach- 
ings, and visions, or Jane Welsh's long heartache, 
finding relief and rest for the first time when the 
ache finally broke the heart. 


IRVING had removed from Haddington to Kirk- 
caldy : but he still paid visits to the home of the 
woman he loved — hoping against hope — after the 
manner of all who love unhappily. Time, destiny, 
an earthquake, or an eclipse — heaven knows what 
— might yet intervene between him and advancing 
doom. It was, perhaps, when he had begun to 
abandon hope finally, that he brought to Jane 
Welsh a friend he had made in Edinburgh, whose 
genius and goodness he had been able to thus 
early discover, under the thickly-obscuring clouds 
of roughness, ill-health, and bleak and hopeless 
poverty. The friend was Thomas Carlyle. Jane 
Welsh, at this moment, was fighting against her 
hopeless love after the fashion of her energetic 
nature. She hoped to find in literature a solace, 
perchance a career ; was deep in books, and in 
new studies — above all, in the study of German. 

254 Some Old Love Stones 

" Oh ! my beloved German ! my precious, pre- 
cious time," she writes to a friend. Later on, 
when under Carlyle's guidance and encourage- 
ment she is translating German, she writes of the 
occupation — "as busy at this as if my fortune in 
this world and my salvation in the world to come 
depended on my proficiency in that enchanting 

Here was another bond with Carlyle. Every- 
body knows what he has done for the introduction 
of German literature to England, and that German 
was to him, in the first stage of his career, at once 
a fascinating study and a means of earning bread. 


It was on an evening in the last week of May 
1 82 1, that there took place that first interview 
between Carlyle and Jane Welsh which has now 
become one of the immortal episodes of literary 
history. We have an account of the evening by 
Carlyle himself — told after his matchless fashion. 
It should be said that the account begins by an 
inaccurate date — Carlyle places the interview in 
June, it was in May. 

In June 1821 (he writes) Edward Irving, who was visiting 
and recruiting about Edinburgh, on one of his occasional 
holiday sallies from Glasgow, took me out to Haddington. 
We walked cheerily together, not always by the highway, but 
meandering at our will pleasantly and multifariously talking, 

Carlyle and his Wife 255 

as has been explained elsewhere, and about sunset of the 
same day I first saw her who was to be so important to me 
thenceforth ; a red dusky evening, the sky hanging huge 
and high, but dim as with dust or drought, over Irving and 
me, as we walked home to our lodgings at the George Inn. 
The visit lasted three or four days, and included Gilbert 
Burns and other figures, besides the one fair figure most of 
all important to me. We were often in her mother's house ; 
sat talking to the two for hours almost every evening. The 
beautiful, bright, and earnest young lady was intent on 
literature as the highest aim in life, and felt imprisoned in 
the dull element which yielded her no commerce in mind, 
and would not even yield her books to read. I obtained 
permission to send at least books from Edinburgh. 


It is fanciful to read too much into a passage, 
written in retrospect over the interval of nearly 
fifty years ; but somehow or other, I seem to find 
in this description a certain forecast and explan- 
ation of the coming tragedy. You mark that 
Carlyle remembered, after all that time, the sky 
which then hung over that eventful evening — "a. 
red, dusky evening, the sky hanging huge and 
high." It is a revelation of his nature in more 
ways than one ; but mainly in this : that it shows 
him to be the very converse of Jane Welsh. I 
have said that she was passionate and not senti- 
mental : Carlyle I believe to have been senti- 
mental and not passionate. His exaltations came 
from the imagination, and were not sensual. The 

256 Some Old Love Stories 

opulent hope that is inspired by a red sunrise, 
the divine peace that inundates the soul from a 
beautiful sunset, reach us through the avenues of 
the senses ; but such enthusiasms belong usually 
to the temperaments in which tenderness and sen- 
sitiveness of the nerves shut out the robustness 
of ardent passion. 

There are some passages in the self-revelations 
of Carlyle that should be read, I think, in con- 
nection with that I have just quoted. The first is 
a description of his boyhood in Ecclefechan. 

On fine days I was wont to carry forth my supper (bread- 
crumbs boiled in milk) and eat it out of doors. On the 
coping of the wall, which I could reach by climbing, my 
porringer was placed ; there many a sunset have I, looking 
at the distant mountains, consumed, not without relish, my 
evening meal. Those hues of gold and azure, that hush of 
worldly expectation as day dies, were still a Hebrew speech 
for me : nevertheless I was looking at the fair, illumined 
letters, and had an eye for the gilding. 

The second passage is still more a revelation of 
Carlyle's nature — at least as I read it. As is 
known, Carlyle had, previous to his meeting with 
Jane Welsh, passed through his first romance. 
Margaret Gordon — probably the vast inferior of 
poor Jane Welsh in intellect — had the more saving 
virtues in a woman of common-sense, insight into 
character, and a firm purpose. She had refused 
Carlyle, and her reasons, although stated with all 
tenderness and delicacy, showed that she had 
discovered the faults which wrecked Jane Welsh. 

Carlyle and his Wife 257 

Miss Gordon was the original of Blumine in 
Sartor Resartus ; and now I pause to extract the 
passages which describe what Carlyle understood 
by love ; it is the passage which tells us what 
Teufelsdrockh felt towards Blumine. 

The first describes an evening such as Carlyle 
might have spent with either Margaret Gordon or 
Jane Welsh — 

The conversation took a higher tone, one fine thought 
called forth another ; it was one of those rare seasons when 
the soul expands with full freedom, and man feels himself 
brought near to man. Gaily in light, graceful abandonment, 
the friendly talk played round that circle ; for the burden was 
rolled from every heart ; the barriers of ceremony, which 
are indeed the laws of polite living, had melted as into 
vapour ; and the poor claims of Me and Thee, no longer 
parted by rigid fences, now flowed softly into one another, 
and life lay all harmonious, many-tinted, like some fair royal 
champaign, the sovereign and owner of which were love only. 
Such music springs from kind hearts, in a kind environ- 
ment of place and time. And yet as the light grew more 
aerial on the mountain tops and the shadows fell longer 
over the valley, some faint tone of sadness may have breathed 
through the heart ; and, in whispers more or less audible, 
reminded every one that as this bright day was drawing 
towards its close, so likewise must the Day of Man's Existence 
decline into dusk and darkness ; and with all its sick toilings 
and joyful and mournful noises sink in the still Eternity. 

To our Friend the hours seemed moments ; holy was he 
and happy ; the words from those sweetest lips came over 
him like dew on thirsty grass ; all better feelings in his soul 
seemed to whisper, It is good for us to be here. At parting, 
the Blumine's hand was in his ; in the balmy twilight, with 
the kind stars above them, he spoke something of meeting 
again, which was not contradicted ; he pressed gently those 
small soft fingers, and it seemed as if they were not hastily, 
not angrily withdrawn. 

258 Some Old Love Stones 

There is another and a similar passage — 

In free speech, earnest or gay, amid lambent glances, 
laughter, tears, and often with the inarticulate mystic speech 
of Music : such was the element they now lived in ; in such 
a many-tinted aurora, and by this fairest of Orient light- 
bringers must our Friend be blandished, and the new 
Apocalypse of Nature unrolled to him. Fairest Blumine ! 
And even as a star, all fire and humid softness, a very light- 
ray incarnate ! Was there so much as a fault, a " caprice," 
he could have dispensed with ? Was she not to him in very 
deed a morning star ? did not her presence bring with it airs 
from Heaven ? As from ^Folian harps in the breath of dawn, 
as from the Memnon's statue struck by the rosy finger of 
Aurora, a weird, unearthly music was around him, and lapped 
him into untried balmy Rest ! Pale Doubt fled away to the 
distance ; Life bloomed up with happiness and hope. The past 
then was all a haggard dream ; he had been in the Garden of 
Eden then, and could not discern it ! But lo, now ! the black 
walls of his prison melt away ; the captive is alive, is free. If 
he loved his Disenchantress ? Ach Gott ! His whole heart 
and soul and life were hers, but never had he named it Love ; 
existence was all a Feeling, not yet shaped into a Thought. 

And finally, when the catastrophe comes, there 
is the following outburst — 

One morning he found his morning star all dimmed and 
dusky red ; the fair creature was silent, absent ; she seemed 
to have been weeping. Alas ! no longer a morning star, but 
a troublous skyey portent, announcing that the doomsday 
had dawned. She said in a tremulous voice, They were to 
meet no more. The thunderstruck Air-sailor is not wanting 
to himself in this dread hour : but what avails it ? We omit 
the passionate expostulations, entreaties, indignations, since 
all was vain, and not even an explanation was conceded 
him ; and hasten to the catastrophe. " Farewell then, 
Madam ! " said he, not without sternness, for his stung pride 
helped him. She put her hand in his, she looked in his face, 
tears started to her eyes ; in wild audacity he clasped her to 

Carlyle and his Wife 259 

his bosom ; their lips were joined, their two souls like two 
dew-drops rushed into one — for the first time, and for the last ! 
Thus was Teufelsdrockh made immortal by a kiss. And 
then ? Why, then — thick curtains of Night rushed over his 
soul, as rose the immeasurable crash of Doom ; and through 
the ruins as of a shivered Universe was he falling, falling, 
towards the Abyss. 

I have quoted these passages not to prove what 
is conceded, that the passion of love has an influ- 
ence on men of genius and imagination, in some 
respects, at least, different from that which it 
exercises over men of more prosaic mould. It 
seems to produce a perfect ferment not so much 
of their passions as of their imaginations ; to give to 
their brains a marvellous brightness, fertility, and 
activity — a fact that perhaps will account for, and 
to some degree even extenuate, the extraordinary 
influence which men of the poetic and literary tem- 
perament have nearly always allowed women to 
exercise over their lives. My purpose is to enforce 
the opinion I have already expressed. The elo- 
quence, beauty, tenderness of these passages are 
undeniable ; indeed, there are few passages, even 
in the literature of love, their equal in eloquence, 
beauty, and tenderness. But what of passion ? 
What of the ardent desire of possession ? The love 
is beautiful, poetic, noble ; but it is spectral : it is 
the love of a sentimental dreamer, not of a robust 
man. There are many women — perhaps one 
might even say a large proportion of women — who 
would ask no other love from a man ; who would 

260 Some Old Love Stories 

be easy, happy, even honoured and exalted in 
such a love : but Jane Welsh was not one of those 


I HAVE given Carlyle's description of the im- 
pression which his first interview with Jane Welsh 
made upon him ; we have also a record of the 
impression he made on her. She was undoubt- 
edly impressed by Carlyle ; Professor Masson in 
his Essays calls attention to the fact as very 
significant, that even in his days of blackest 
poverty and obscurity Carlyle tremendously im- 
pressed everybody — even the Blumine that loved 
and left him. But for the moment, Jane Welsh — 
the fastidious and genteel young lady, the heiress 
and social leader — was struck, or professed to be 
more struck, by Carlyle's plebeian uncouthness and 
physical disadvantages than by his intellectual 
powers. " He scrapes the fender," she wrote of 
this, to her, tragic meeting ; " only his tongue should 
be left at liberty, his other members are most 
fantastically awkward." And besides, there was 
in the room on that evening all the subtle fascina- 
tion of a love — passionate, hopeless, concealed — 
between Jane Welsh and Carlyle's companion. 
One can summon up in fancy a vision of ardent, 
tender, half-affrighted, half-daring exchange of 
looks between Irving and Jane Welsh. One can 

Carlyle and his Wife 263 

My friend, I love you. I repeat it, though I find the 
expression a rash one. All the best feelings of my nature 
are concerned in loving you. But were yOu my brother 
I would love you the same. No, your friend I will be, your 
honest, most devoted friend, while I breathe the breath of 
life. But your wife, never, never — not though you were as 
rich as Croesus, or honoured and renowned as you yet shall be. 

Here, again, was warning sufficient to both the 
one or the other that they were not fit for each 
other. But our lives are the sport of anarchic 
circumstances ; the overwhelming majority of us 
allow ourselves to drift ; and thus it comes so often 
to pass — and perhaps especially in the making of 
marriages — that we are brought to the very course 
which our judgment most repels. Besides, a long 
period of indecision has the effect in the end of 
paralyzing the will ; the mere fatigue of irresolution 
begets rash resolves. 

In this courtship there also entered a factor which 
is accountable for the disastrous clinging to each 
other of so many men and women who were better 
apart. Long intimacy between a man and a woman 
produces a sense of personal proprietorship and of 
necessary companionship. The world is wide, and 
of scarcely two people can it be said with truth 
that they two, out of its teeming millions, are alone 
able to make each other happy. But there is 
always the fierce promptings of jealousy against the 
surrender of what one once has had ; and the aching 
void and sense of desolation which the loss of a 
customary companionship produces in almost every 

264 Some Old Love Stories 

one of us, gives to parting an exaggerated horror. 
Add to this the latent desire to conquer in every 
male animal, and to hold, in every female, and you 
can understand why these two clung to each other, 
and almost consciously — in terror, in desperation, 
but with the relentless grip of the drowning — went 
together down the stream to Niagara. 


I HAVE read and re-read the letters which 
passed between the two at this period : they have 
the fascination which every authentic human docu- 
ment in a story of tragic marriage must always 
exercise. In addition, these letters are pictures 
of two intensely interesting, complex, gifted, and 
historic beings ; and they are written with extra- 
ordinary literary skill. It would be wrong to 
describe them as love-letters— for, alas ! the two 
people who wrote them were not in love with each 
other. But outside the immortal works of fiction, 
I don't know any correspondence which conveys 
so intense a sense of the currents and eddies of 
feeling by which men and women are tossed and 
mocked and undone. All the letters are set forth 
in full in Froude's story of Carlyle's early life in 
London, but to embody them here would enlarge 
this essay beyond the modest proportions which it 
is intended to reach. I must be satisfied with 

Carlyle and his Wife 265 

giving an occasional extract here and there which 
will serve to bring out the relations between 
the two. Carlyle, during these years, had been 
employed as tutor to the young Bullers, and had 
paid the visit to London of which the world knows 
so much. The most intimate friend, of course, he 
found in London was Irving, who had already 
received his first call to Hatton Garden, and had 
already laid the foundation of that triumphant 
career of fashionable preaching which ended so 
disastrously. Carlyle, it must always be remem- 
bered, was unconscious until his wife's death, 
and perhaps was not wholly conscious even then, 
of the intense passion which had bound her and 
Irving together. It will, therefore, be understood 
what a charm the letters of Carlyle which dealt 
with Irving must have had for the woman whose 
heart still bled from the wound of her unhappy 
love! This letter, for instance, must have been 
especially delightful to her! Carlyle and Irving 
are at Dover together. 

The orator is busy writing and bathing, persuading himself 
that he is scaling the very pinnacles of Christian sentiment, 
which in truth, with him, are very little more than the very 
pinnacles of human vanity rising through an atmosphere of 
great natural warmth and generosity. I find him much as he 
was before, and I suppose always will be, overspread with 
secret affections, secret to himself, but kind and friendly 
and speculative and discursive as ever. It would do your 
heart good to look at him in the character of dry nurse to his 
first-born, Edward. Oh, that you saw the Giant with his 
broad-brimmed hat, his sallow visage, and his sable, matted 

266 Some Old Love Stories 

fleece of hair ; carrying the little pepper-box of a creature 
folded in his monstrous palms along the beach, tick tickling 
to it, and dandling it, and every time it stirs an eyelid grinning 
horribly a ghastly smile, heedless of the cries of petrified 
spectators that turn round in long trains, gazing in silent 
terror at the fatherly leviathan ; you would laugh for twelve 
months after, every time you thought of it. And yet it is 
very wrong to laugh, if one could help it. Nature is very 
lovely : pity she should ever be absurd. On the whole I am 
pleased with Irving, and hope to love him and admire him 
and laugh at him as long as I live. There is a fund of 
sincerity in his life and character which in these heartless, 
aimless days is doubly precious. The cant of religion, 
conscious or unconscious, is a pitiable thing, but not the 
most pitiable. 

The picture here presented to Jane Welsh of the 
man she loved, not merely as a husband, but as 
the father of a child by another woman, must have 
produced on her expressive face a look which, 
perhaps, had Carlyle been able to see and read it, 
might have given him warning of the future which 
he and she were preparing for each other ! 


An extract from another letter will show that, 
though dimly, Carlyle was already conscious of 
some of the perilous contradictions in the character 
of his future wife. 

Do not (he says) mock and laugh, however gracefully, 
when you can help it. For your own sake I had almost 
rather see you sad. It is the earnest, affectionate, warm- 
hearted, enthusiastic Jane that I love. The acute, sarcastic, 

Carlyle and his Wife 267 

clear-sighted, derisive Jane I can at least but admire. Is it 
not a pity that you had such a turn that way ? 

And now Carlyle made a proposition to Jane 
Welsh, which more than anything else showed his 
want of knowledge of her and himself, and his 
entire want of tact in dealing with her. His 
future, although it had had some successes, was 
still undetermined, but he had that desire for the 
country which is always inspired by dwelling 
in town, just as dwelling in the country inspires a 
hankering after the town, in one who was disposed 
to see the causes of his sufferings not in the 
sombreness of his own character, but in his physical 
maladies and in his surroundings. This was the 
year 1825, and he was now thirty years of age. 

The proposal he made to Jane Welsh was that 
he should take a farm in Scotland. Jane Welsh 
was by no means attracted by any such project. 
She knew a good deal better than Carlyle what a 
Scotch farm involved. She knew Carlyle a good 
deal better than he did himself, and his utter 
unfitness for such an occupation ; and above all 
things she knew how little she was fitted to be a 
farmer's wife. At first she treated the enterprise 
with her characteristic spirit of mockery ; and in 
the same spirit made the remark that if she wanted 
a farm, she had one of her own at Craigenputtock ; 
the tenant was leaving, and if he was bent on 
trying, let him try Craigenputtock. Craigenputtock 
had been left to her by her father. Poor Carlyle 

268 Some Old Love Stories 

took the joke quite seriously. Craigenputtock at 
once became a fixed idea, a glorious vision, a 
perfect solution of his difficulties and troubles. 
The correspondence which followed is a wonderful 
revelation of both the one and the other, and an 
explanation of much that followed afterwards. 
The letter of January 1825 (see Froude's Carlyle's 
Early Life, pp. 280 — 285, for the entire letter) is 
a most curious and pathetic instance of the self- 
deception which an imaginative man can practise 
on himself. Here is a man who, in spite of all he 
said to the contrary, was marked out by nature 
to be an author, declaiming against the profession 
of author as a degrading thing. Here is a man 
who would have been miserable in Paradise, dis- 
covering that all he wants to make him happy is 
open air and solitude; here is a man who ultimately 
was able to bend a woman to his will, to his 
purpose, and his habits with an unrelenting stern- 
ness that sometimes make one almost loathe him, 
declaring that no self-sacrifice is beyond the powers 
and limits of his unselfishness ! 

The reply of Jane Welsh has not the same 
splendour and glow as the letter of Carlyle, for 
she had neither his imagination, his vision, nor 
his lack of sense. But it is a very remarkable 
letter, nevertheless, both as a revelation of character 
and as a piece of literature. It is also a letter 
which marked out so plainly how little she was 
suited to be Carlyle's wife, as to increase one's 

Carlyle and his Wife 269 

astonishment that neither of the two people, so 
intellectual otherwise, was able to read its inevit- 
able interpretation. If there be one folly which is 
more dominant in the madness of the passion called 
love, it is that the loved person will be all-sufficing, 
and that the rest of the world must be regarded 
as superfluous and embarrassing. Hence the first 
craving of most people in the vigour of youth and 
passion is for solitude. Probably, as Froude 
suggests, if Edward Irving had made to Jane 
Welsh the proposition which was urged upon her 
by Carlyle — at all events if on the acceptance of 
that proposition depended either the loss or re- 
tention of Irving — she would not have hesitated to 
joyfully accept. But, as Froude remarks, " the 
indispensable feeling was absent," and not only 
was it absent, but she knew it was absent. 

I love you, and I should be the most ungrateful and in- 
judicious of mortals if I did not. But I am not in love with 
you ; that is to say, my love for you is not a passion which 
overclouds my judgment and absorbs all my regards for 
myself and others. It is a simple, honest, serene affection, 
made up of admiration and sympathy ; and better perhaps 
to found domestic enjoyment on than any other. In short, 
it is a love which influences, does not make, the destiny of a 


" SUCH temperate sentiments," she goes on to 
say, truly enough, " lend no false colouring, no 
' rosy light ' ; " and she proceeds to show this very 

270 Some Old Love Stories 

effectively by discussing ways and means with a 
calmness — it would not be unfair to say, an in- 
delicacy — which would be scarcely possible in any 
woman who was really in love. The frankness 
with which she spoke, showed her to be much 
more clear-sighted than the morbid visionary to 
whom she was writing. 

The next letter of Carlyle is as interesting. It 
explains how the same vivid and ever-active ima- 
gination — which gave him the power, with almost 
eerie and fabulous second-sight, to transfer himself 
into a century-dead thing, and to get at the inside 
of a heart that had become silent dust for a succes- 
sion of generations — it explains how the same vivid 
and active imagination was able also to magnify and 
to distort the realities of his own life. Here is a 
picture of the kind of vision that must have often 
given sleepless nights, full of affrighting horrors, to 
the poor dyspeptic genius — 

For these many months the voice of every persuasion in 
my conscience has been thundering to me as with the Trump 
of the Archangel. Man ! thou art going to destruction. 
Thy nights and days are spent in torment ! thy heart is 
wasting into entire bitterness. Thou art making less of life 
than the dog that sleeps upon thy hearth. Up, hapless 
mortal ! Up and rebuild thy destiny if thou canst ! Up in 
the name of God, that God who sent thee hither for other 
purposes than to wander to and fro, bearing the fire of hell 
in an unguilty bosom, to suffer in vain silence, and to die 
without ever having lived. 

All these visions, he proceeds to explain, would 
be exorcised and for ever banished, if only the 

Carlyle and his Wife 271 

woman he loved consented to exile herself to the 
solitude of a bleak, lonely farm ! By and by, as 
we all know, he was able to wring from the wife 
the concession which was so emphatically refused 
by the woman who had not yet been bound in the 
chains of marriage ; and we shall see how far 
Carlyle's anticipations of himself, of his love, and 
of life on a farm were realized with Jane Welsh. 

Meantime, let me pass on to the remainder of 
this remarkable correspondence. Jane Welsh's next 
letter is even more emphatic in the repudiation of 
anything like the sentiment of love for Carlyle. 

" I am prudent," she says ; " I fear only because 
I am not strongly tempted to be otherwise," and 
then she proceeds — 

My heart is capable (I feel it is) of a love to which no 
deprivation would be a sacrifice — a love which would over- 
leap that reverence for opinion with which education and 
weakness have begirt my sex, would bear down all the re- 
straints which duty and expediency might throw in the way, 
and carry every thought of my being impetuously along with 
it. But the all-perfect mortal who could inspire me with a 
love so extravagant is nowhere to be found ; exists nowhere 
but in the romance of my own imagination. Perhaps it is 
better for me as it is. A passion like the torrent in the 
violence of its course might perhaps too, like the torrent, 
leave ruin and desolation behind. In the meantime, I should 
be mad to act as if from the influence of such a passion 
while my affections are in a state of perfect tranquillity. I 
have already explained to you the nature of my love {or you : 
that it is deep and calm, more like the quiet river which 
refreshes and beautifies where it flows, than the torrent which 
bears down and destroys ; yet it is materially different from 
what one feels for a statue or a picture. 

272 Some Old Love Stories 

And in another part of the same letter she 
speaks of a desire to " improve my sentiments." 

I am not sure that they are proper sentiments for a hus- 
band. They are proper for a brother, a father, a guardian 
spirit ; but a husband, it seems to me, should be dearer still. 
At the same time, from the change which my sentiments 
towards you have already undergone during the period of 
our acquaintance, I have little doubt but that in time I shall 
be perfectly satisfied with them. 

Finally, in the closing letters of this episode, 
she takes up a serious tone and tries to laugh, but 
unfortunately she at the same time reveals to him 
the dangerous power he has over her. 

How could I (she said) part from the only living soul 
that understands me ? I would marry you to-morrow rather ; 
our parting would need to be brought about by death or 
some dispensation of Providence. Were you to will it, to 
part would no longer be bitter. The bitterness would be 
thinking you unworthy. 

Almost a whole library has been written to find 
the key to the sad mystery of Carlyle's and Mrs. 
Carlyle's unhappiness. To me it seems that all 
this speculation is far-fetched, when we have in 
these letters the entire, complete, and unmistak- 
able key to the heart of the mystery. It is quite 
true that there are natures — unimaginative, robust, 
and placid — to whom passionate love is no essential 
of marriage. But it is a law of nature with those 
who are imaginative and ardent — and indeed with 
the vast mass of mankind — that marriage is only 
tolerable when it is entered by people who are 

Carlyle and his Wife 273 

drawn to each other by the overwhelming force 
of all that mental, moral, and above all, physical 
attraction, one to the other, which we summarize 
in the word " love." The world is poisoned in its 
ethics, its legislation, in its millions of unhappy 
lives, by all the falsehood of sentiment, thought, 
and morality under which this fundamental truth 
of the pairing of man and woman is hidden ; and 
quite recently the perhaps greatest novelist of his 
time — the Russian Tolstoi — has written a grim 
story, the main purpose of which is to fight against 
nature's law in this regard. The married life of 
Mrs. Carlyle is the best answer to the maleficent 
folly of The Krentzer Sonata. 

This case is being tried now, not in a court of 
divorce, but in a court of literature. Therefore 
one must avoid the coarse, almost brutish language 
in which women sometimes are compelled to 
demand separation from their husbands. Froude 
himself indicates as frankly as needs the real and 
fundamental reason of Mrs. Carlyle's unhappiness. 
"There is not a hint in any way that he had 
contemplated as a remote possibility the usual 
consequences of marriage, a family — and children." 
This passage needs no comments — for its meaning 
is plain : and I pass on. 

274 Some Old Love Stories 


" MRS. CARLYLE," writes Froude, " said . . . that 
but for the unconscious action of a comparative 
stranger her engagement with Carlyle would prob- 
ably never have been carried out." The incident 
which finally drove Jane Welsh into the arms of 
Carlyle is a singularly curious and interesting 
example of how unsuspected are the results when 
a person, ignorant of its structure and its nature, 
plays upon the human heart. As well expect that 
the water will not refract the stick you place in 
it as that the human heart will obey precisely the 
direction you wish it to go. Among the people of 
consequence whom Carlyle had met in London on 
his visit there was Mrs. Basil Montagu. Carlyle 
has caricatured her, but she seems to have been a 
well-meaning, kind-hearted, perilously sentimental 
woman. Mrs. Montagu was one of Irving's friends 
and admirers ; and under the encouragement of her 
affection his afflicted heart overflowed, and he told 
the story of his unhappy love for Jane Welsh. 
The story naturally contained enthusiastic eulogies 
which the lover is always ready to bestow on the 
woman he has loved and lost. Mrs. Ireland blames 
Irving for this breach of the reticences, and, as it 
proved, it was a violation of another's confidence 
which brought disastrous results. But our poor 

Carlyle and his Wife 275 

Irving was very human, and acted after the fashion 
of men. 

Both Mrs. Montagu and Jane Welsh, on the 
other hand, acted after the fashion of women — 
though very different women. To Mrs. Montagu, 
Jane Welsh was a beautiful, attractive, high-minded 
young woman, eating out her heart in repining 
for a lover that had finally passed beyond her 
reach. With an innocent attempt at deception, 
Mrs. Montagu drew a picture of Irving very 
different from what he was or she thought him to 
be. He was inconstant, he was absorbed in him- 
self, in his ambitions, in his multitudinous friends 
— in short, he wasn't worth a girl's breaking her 
heart for him. 

Mrs. Montagu knew little of her sex in general, 
and least of all did she know this hard, proud, and 
distant specimen of it to whom she was writing, 
if she thought that such a letter could have any 
good results. Of all things which instinct, the 
traditions of centuries, pride, and, it may be added, 
self-interest, compel most women to conceal, it is 
an unhappy passion ; and of all things they abhor 
and resent, it is pity over such a passion. Jane 
Welsh, instead of being free from these almost 
universal tendencies of her sex, was especially 
possessed by them. " It was not her habit," says 
Froude, who knew her so well, "to seek for 
sympathy from strangers"; and though Mrs. 
Montagu found her reply " extremely beautiful," 

276 Some Old Love Stories 

we can imagine that it was not without a certain 
bitterness and resentment — not, perhaps, wholly 
intelligible to poor Mrs. Montagu's romantic eye. 

The letter to Jane Welsh was indiscreet enough ; 
but Mrs. Montagu had been guilty of a greater 
indiscretion. Ignorant of the closeness of the 
relations between Carlyle and Jane Welsh — 
regarding him simply as the good friend of both 
Irving and Jane Welsh, and believing that as such 
he knew all about the open secret of their unhappy 
hearts — Mrs. Montagu had written him at the same 
time a confidential letter, with the idea that he 
might also help in curing a love-sick maid from an 
impossible passion. 

We see at once the critical, painful, disastrous 
situation which was created. Instead of knowing 
anything of the passion between Irving and Jane 
Welsh, Carlyle was entirely ignorant of it ; instead 
of having unveiled the suffering, passionate, bruised 
heart which she carried within her breast, Jane 
Welsh had deliberately masked it. " For two 
years," says Froude, "she had never mentioned 
Irving to Carlyle except bitterly and contempt- 
uously, so bitterly indeed that he had often been 
obliged to remonstrate." Carlyle knew too little 
of women to read in the exaggerated assaults the 
return blows of a jealous and bleeding heart. And 
now, here was Jane Welsh revealed to Carlyle as 
that poorest of things — a green-sick woman after 
another woman's husband, and as a wilful deceiver 

Carlyle and his Wife 277 

of a man who had believed her a transparently- 
truthful soul. And, finally, I should put it as one 
of the most potent factors in producing Jane 
Welsh's action at this decisive moment in her life, 
that she recoiled from the man — perchance loved 
and yet despised — who had betrayed her secret to 
another woman, and, indirectly, to another admirer. 
What devils of jealousy, scorn, vain regrets there 
were in the mind of Jane Welsh at this hour must 
have been increased sevenfold. 


The first thing, of course, which Jane Welsh 
had to do was, as Froude puts it, " to satisfy her 
ecstatic acquaintance that she was not pining for 
another woman's husband ; " and the best way to 
do this was to tell Mrs. Montagu of her engage- 
ment to Carlyle. Thus Mrs. Montagu's interven- 
tion was bearing consequences so opposite to what 
the poor lady had anticipated, that she had, good 
soul, to begin all over again, and try an entirely 
different line. Of the engagement to Carlyle, she 
heard with as much horror as surprise ; and shrink- 
ing back from the contemplation of a loveless 
marriage with one man as a result of a hapless 
love for another, Mrs. Montagu adjured Jane 
Welsh not to marry Carlyle. And to fortify the 
position she had to praise Irving, whom she had 

278 Some Old Love Stories 

dispraised, to declare that possible which she felt 
bound to denounce as impossible. Irving might 
one day be free ; could Jane Welsh say that if he 
were she would still marry Carlyle? and if she 
could not, what right had she to do so ? 

Then came another and an equally curious 
instance of the unlooked-for consequences of certain 
facts in complex natures. Jane Welsh had much 
of hardness in her, and more as time went on, and 
after a hideous marriage had brought its terrible 
Nemesis ; but I find her infinitely touching at this 
moment in her life ; and in nothing so much as in 
the self-abasement to which she bent her proud 
and resolute spirit. She felt that she had been 
uncandid, if not untruthful, to Carlyle ; and, en- 
closing this letter of Mrs. Montagu in one of her 
own, she fell, prone and humble, before him. 

She had told him that she had never cared for 
Irving. It was false, she now said. She had loved 
him once — yes, she had loved him " passionately." 
" Passionately " — there is much significance in the 
word ! And the use of it by Jane Welsh — though 
perchance she did not know its full import — is one 
of the things which have led me to the conclusion 
that with Irving, whether she would have been 
happy or not, she would never have sunk to the 
abyss of misery to which she descended with 
Carlyle. Passion — that tremendous factor in the 
union of a man and woman — was absent from the 
marriage of Carlyle and his wife. Between them 

Carlyle and his Wife 279 

there was not this potent tie — potent to bind, to 
soften, to reconcile. The hold which Irving had 
over Jane Welsh was revealed and summarized in 
that single word in her letter; and if Carlyle or 
she had known themselves or human nature, the 
use of that one word would have been the epitaph 
of their engagement. 

But neither knew the world : and, again, the 
effect of Jane Welsh's letter was the contradictory 
of what she had expected. Her self-abasement, 
instead of producing a triumphant retort from 
Carlyle, and a cry of joyous capture, brought to 
him a new birth of all the affrighting visions 
which had haunted him throughout the engagement. 
Mrs. Montagu was right : Jane Welsh was marry- 
ing him out of the infinite tenderness of her gentle 
heart for a poor wretch whose infirmities, bodily 
and mental, made him an unfit companion for 
any woman. He knew he could never make her 
happy. And then came one of those splendid 
bursts of mournful eloquence on the futility and 
sadness of human life, of which his pen was more 
capable than almost any since the days of the 
Hebrew psalmists. " No affection " — as Froude 
summarizes the outburst — " was unalterable or 
eternal." " Men themselves, with all their passions, 
sank to the dust and were consumed." And then 
there came a pathetic avowal of his own failings, 
and above all, of that "strange dark humour in 
him over which he had no control." 

280 Some Old Love Stories 

Again, in this tragi-comedy of errors, a letter had 
the opposite effect to that which it asked — or per- 
haps I should say, seemed to ask ; for possibly Car- 
lyle, after the fashion of despondent lovers, would 
have been shocked and wounded if the prayer he 
so passionately uttered had been granted. This 
humble, suffering, self-distrustful man — how could 
he fail to appeal to an inexperienced and not 
heartless woman, of whose life he had been for so 
many years an integral part ? Besides, how could 
any woman any longer continue in a position so 
false and undignified ? The avowal of her engage- 
ment by Jane Welsh involved its fulfilment. In 
any case, this maddening uncertainty must come 
to an end. Jane Welsh and Carlyle resolved to 
see each other ; to fight with his black humours, 
and with his wavering and despondent soul : at all 
events, to have it out once and for ever. The 
visit was paid, and the marriage was resolved 
upon. It was thus that poor Mrs. Montagu's 
intervention had worked ! 


But even yet the marriage did not take place, 
and there is more letter-writing, more interminable 
discussion ; plans vary from day to day ; there are 
moments when there is sweet concord, and moments 

Carlyle and his Wife 281 

of almost angry estrangement ; and finally, as the 
hour of actual marriage approaches, there are out- 
cries of terror, which seem more like a preparation 
for the scaffold than for the altar. 

Here is an extract from a letter from Jane 
Welsh which is well worth study — 

I am resolved in spirit and even joyful — joyful in face of 
the dreadful ceremony, and starvation, and of every horrible 

I pause for a moment to note the language in 
which the woman speaks of what is usually an hour 
of rapturous expectation to those in love. " The 
dreadful ceremony," " starvation," " horrible fate " — 
these are the images which the coming of her 
marriage-day suggests to Jane Welsh ! 

The passage which follows is even more 

important — 

Oh ! my dearest friend, be always good to me, and I shall 
make the best and happiest wife. When I read in your looks 
and words that you love me, then I care not one straw for 
the whole universe besides. But when you fly from me to 
smoke tobacco, or speak of me as a mere circumstance of 
your lot, then indeed my heart is troubled about many things. 

Has ever a more touching letter been written ? 
ever a letter which bore so distinct a mark of 
womanhood ? That eternal cry for affection, for 
tenderness, for recognition is there, which is the 
note of almost all women alive — the strongest as 
the weakest — the touch of nature that makes them 
all kin. If Carlyle had been able to appreciate 
the depth of feeling, the abyss of yearning from 

282 Some Old Love Stories 

which there issued this almost desperate cry and 
appeal, his life and his wife's would have been a 
very different thing. For Carlyle never under- 
stood the needs of his wife until it was too late. 
It is true that even if he had, the indiscipline of his 
temper, its tyranny over himself as over others, and 
his selfishness, would have made him incapable of 
giving to his wife the tenderness, the attention, the 
self-sacrifice she craved. Eut my reading of this 
story is that Carlyle's destruction of this woman 
came from want of observation and want of 
understanding as much — if not more — than from 
want of feeling. 

There is one last letter of hers before her 
marriage which I must quote — 

Oh ! (she wrote) for Heaven's sake get into a more be- 
nignant humour, or the incident will not only wear a very 
original aspect, but likewise a very heart-breaking one. I see 
not how I am to go through with it. 

And it is in this letter that she made use of the 
curious expression as to Carlyle, " I have found a 
second father" — a phrase which signifies much. 

As to Carlyle, never was he so trying as in the last 
few weeks before the marriage. All the fantastic 
terrors which even his vivid and morbid imagin- 
ation could summon up, appeared in his letters ; 
and, when these were dealt with, he made a 
number of proposals as to the wedding-day which 
suggest a panic-stricken horror of being left alone 
with his new wife that would be laughable if it 

Carlyle and his Wife 283 

were not tragic. They were to drive from the 
house of Jane Welsh's uncle near Haddington to 
the house in Comely Bank, in Edinburgh, where 
they were to live. Carlyle's first proposition was 
that they should make the journey in the public 
coach. Then, when this plan was rejected, he asked 
that his brother John should accompany them. 
Anything but solitude — the solitude which is the 
first craving of those who love ! When the better 
and more delicate sense, and the robuster spirit of 
the woman, rejected these two proposals, Carlyle 
made a solemn demand that he should be allowed 
to smoke three cigars — " without criticism and 
reluctance, as things essential to my perfect 

And, thus warned by the loud protests of their 
own hearts, pursued by spectres, affrighted, but no 
longer masters of themselves, these two were 
married on October 17, 1826: and Jane Welsh's 
long martyrdom began. She had put the iron 
collar of servitude around her neck, and gradually, 
but surely, it gripped and tightened and finally 


An American man once told me a story of his 
life which haunted me in a curious way for years 
afterwards. In the first year after his marriage, 
when he and his wife were both young, active, and 

284 Some Old Love Stories 

happy, they were coming home in the early 
morning from a dance ; in the exuberance of her 
strength and joy the woman scorned to walk 
along the road, and went through the green fields 
to their home, chattering, singing, dancing as she 
passed. The fields were wet after the heavy rain- 
fall ; and at that moment she was sowing, in all her 
system, the seeds of a chronic rheumatism which 
for ever after held her, tortured her, and in the end 
killed her. I reconstructed the whole scene on that 
bright summer morning hundreds of times, until it 
had almost come to be like a personal experience 
in my own life ; it was the contrast between the 
joyous opening and the long hell which came after 
to the fair and bright young creature which had 
caught my imagination. 

I have something of the same feeling as I read 
the description of the life of Jane Welsh Carlyle 
at Craigenputtock ; for there one can see the 
beginning — unconscious and unobserved — of the 
mental misery and physical pain which possessed 
Mrs. Carlyle from that time forward. The sadness 
and the horror of the story are only increased by 
the fact that the person who was mainly respon- 
sible for it all was an unconscious, in some degree 
even an innocent, agent ; that he loved, constantly 
and tenderly, the woman whose soul and body he 
wrecked ; and that he reaped, in years of lonely 
and haunted remorse, a harvest of woe almost 
as abundant as that of his slave and his victim. 

Carlyle and his Wife 285 

The first few months of life at Comely Bank 
may be passed over lightly. On the whole they 
were happy ; though even thus early there were 
indications of the coming storms. One of the 
first wounds to a woman's tenderness and need of 
approval which husbands give, is indifference to 
the little accomplishments for which such insincere 
admiration had been expressed in courtship ; and 
poor Mrs. Carlyle was not long before she had 
this, as well as the other disagreeable awakenings 
of married life. Thus to her mother-in-law she 
writes — the tone is playful, but there is an under- 
current of seriousness — " There is a piano, too, 
1 for soothing the savage breast,' when one cares 
for its charms ; but I am sorry to say that neither 
my playing nor my singing seem to give Mr. 
C. much delight." Even in these first hours of 
their joint lives, too, Carlyle had begun to create 
that separation which was one of Mrs. Carlyle's 
greatest grievances. He did not see her from 
breakfast till four p.m. ; was alone at his work, 
in his walks, in his talk, in his bed-chamber. 
But, on the other hand, there were many acts of 
attention and kindness, in the Comely Bank period, 
which form a brighter picture of Carlyle as a 
husband than at any other period of his married 
life — until towards its end. 

It was when the Craigenputtock project was 
carried out that the real horrors of solitude, broken 
only by Carlyle's fitful, silent, and sometimes 

286 Some Old Love Stones 

morose companionship, came upon Mrs. Carlyle. 
The reader has seen with what resolution and 
sense Jane Welsh had rejected the idea of living 
in Craigenputtock ; but Jane Welsh was now Mrs. 
Carlyle, and no longer a free agent. She, who had 
declared that she would not consent to live in 
Craigenputtock " with an angel," was now com- 
pelled to go there with a dyspeptic, lonely, and 
selfish visionary. " To her it was a great sacrifice," 
wrote Carlyle, " and to me it was the reverse ; but 
at no moment, even by a look, did she ever say 
so." How great the sacrifice was, Carlyle never 
knew till too late. 

Professor Nichol, with characteristic patriotism, 
objects to Froude's description of Craigenputtock, 
as exaggerated ; but even granting his deductions, 
Froude's picture is substantially correct. It is, 
Froude writes, " the dreariest spot in all the British 

The nearest cottage is more than a mile from it : the eleva- 
tion seven hundred feet above the sea, stunting the trees and 
limiting the garden produce to the hardiest vegetables. The 
house is gaunt and hungry-looking. It stands with the scanty 
fields attached as an island in a sea of morass. The landscape 
is unredeemed either by grace or grandeur, mere undulating 
hills of grass and heather, with peat-bogs in the hollows 
between them. The belts of firs which now relieve the eye 
and furnish some kind of shelter were scarcely planted when 
the Carlyles were in possession. No wonder Mrs. Carlyle 
shuddered at the thought of making her home in so stern a 

In addition, the winters were both long and 

Carlyle and his Wife 287 

terrible ; snow made access difficult, almost impos- 
sible at times ; and at all seasons the stretch of 
fifteen miles lay — long, bleak, and dreary — between 
Craigenputtock and the nearest town, the post- 
office, and the doctor. 

Remember the j ideas with which Jane Welsh 
had married. She herself said afterwards — "I 
married for ambition." She had doubtless had 
her visions herself of literary greatness and social 
distinction in a great centre. She had quite 
enough of vanity to suggest, and quite enough of 
brilliancy to justify her in following the uniform 
method of day-dreams, and in making herself a 
central figure in the triumphant picture. She was 
to the end a talker as brilliant almost as Carlyle 
himself; to the end she loved admiration. She 
had been a serious student ; was, perhaps, conscious 
of what brilliancy lay latent in her pen, and per- 
chance had literary ambitions as keen as those of 
Carlyle himself. Above all things, she had expected 
literary companionship and watchful tenderness 
from Carlyle. In that pathetic little letter just 
before their marriage which I have already quoted, 
she had begged Carlyle to treat her so that she 
might feel that she was really somebody and some- 
thing in his life and in the life of the world. In 
other words, this woman of strong, intense, brilliant 
individuality asked that her individuality might 
be a little respected and a little considered. And 
how had Carlyle fulfilled the bond ? 

288 Some Old Love Stories 

In Comely Bank she proved that she could be 
a brilliant and attractive hostess ; in Cheyne Row, 
later, she was able to prove this still more incon- 
testably, and yet here she was condemned to live 
in a gaunt farm-house, fifteen miles from even the 
outposts of civilization ! Nor was this all. If 
Carlyle had been only to her in marriage a little 
more what he was in courtship, she might have 
found the solitude more tolerable; but Carlyle 
made the solitude more lonely, the desolation more 
desolate. She rarely saw him ; and when she did, 
she found herself at the side of a depressed, silent, 
gloomy, exacting, and now and then impatient and 
tempestuous man. And worse than all, Carlyle 
ceased to be respected by his wife ; he had come to 
be regarded by her as a terribly selfish man ; and 
his warmest admirers are compelled to admit that 
his wife had too abundant reason for the opinion. 
Froude has to admit it over and over again. " If," 
Froude writes, "matters went well with himself, 
it never occurred to him that they could be going 
ill with anyone else ; and, on the other hand, if 
he was uncomfortable, he required everybody to 
be uncomfortable along with him." Mrs. Carlyle 
scornfully remarked that no one could have a 
more Christian resignation to the sufferings of 
others. An even stronger and bitterer comment 
was — "If Carlyle wakes once in a night he will 
complain of it for a week. I wake thirty times 
every night, but that is nothing." 

Carlyle and his Wife 289 

And the implied boast is justified. Carlyle was 
a loud and insistent grumbler and complainer from 
his earliest days. His correspondence is a long 
whine over his ills, real or imaginary. On the 
other hand, Mrs. Carlyle is confessed by all to have 
borne her sufferings with a stern and inflexible 
reticence worthy of a Red Indian at the stake. 
And the contrast is further marked and saddened 
by the fact that it was the woman who had the 
real sufferings, and not the man. He wrote while 
still a young man that he was " immured in a rotten 
carcase, every avenue of which is changed into an 
inlet of pain." But the " rotten carcase " managed 
to carry him safely and, on the whole, soundly to 
eighty-six years. His wife, on the other hand — of 
whom, until almost the very end of her days, he 
never seemed to dream as ever having had an 
hour of real weakness and of pain — was delicate 
from girlhood : became an invalid — an invalid in 
mind and in body too — within a few years after 
her marriage ; had for some years spells of positive 
torture ; and finally, died suddenly of the sheer 
exhaustion of her bitterly-tried heart. 


It was at Craigenputtock that the seeds of her 

ailments and subsequent suffering were sown. Mrs. 

Carlyle had a weak chest, a highly-sensitive nervous 


290 Some Old Love Stories 

organization, and had been reared in the delicate 
helplessness of a young lady of fortune. In 
Craigenputtock she could only keep one servant ; 
and as Carlyle was fiercely particular as to his 
food, and all his domestic surroundings, she had 
all at once to become a domestic drudge. She 
had to bake the bread ; for his weak digestion and 
delicate palate could not stand any but what she 
had made with her own hands. She had to see to 
the cooking of every meal : if a plate were not well 
washed she had to wash it herself ; she had, now 
and then, to milk the cows ; she had even to polish 
the grates and to scour the floors. If any man 
thinks that all these tasks are only what a wife 
should be expected to do, let him try his own hand 
at one of the physical and menial occupations 
which all his life he has had done for him by others : 
and he has the strength of a man, and poor Mrs. 
Carlyle had only the weakness of a delicate woman. 
It would make the world so much easier and better 
for women, if men were only able now and then to 
put themselves in their places ! 

I do not want to speak disrespectfully of poor 
Carlyle ; but in spirit it is somewhat hard to keep 
one's hand off him, as we reconstitute those scenes 
in the gaunt house at Craigenputtock. There is a 
little detail in one scene which adds a deeper 
horror. I have said that Mrs. Carlyle had to 
scrub the floors ; and as she scrubbed them, Car- 
lyle would look on smoking, — drawing in from 

Carlyle and his Wife 291 

tobacco pleasant comfortableness and easy dreams 
— while his poor drudge panted and sighed over 
the hard work, which she had never done before. 
Do you not feel that you would like to break the 
pipe in his mouth, to shake him off the chair, and 
pitch him on to the floor, to take a share of the 
physical burden which his shoulders were so much 
better able to bear ? 

There is an authentic document from this period 
which is one of the most painful and interesting in 
the whole story. It has been often quoted, and it 
is familiar to every student of this tragic marriage ; 
but I cannot think that even a brief essay would 
be complete without its reproduction. I have said 
that Carlyle would eat no bread which had not 
been cooked by Mrs. Carlyle herself. Thirty 
years after the life at Craigenputtock, Mrs. Car- 
lyle, writing to Miss Smith of Carlisle, told the 
story of her first experience in bread-making in 
the following letter — 

So many talents are wasted, so many enthusiasms turned 
to smoke, so many lives spoilt for want of a little patience and 
endurance, for want of understanding and laying to heart 
what you have so well expressed in your verses — the meaning 
of the Present — for want of recognizing that it is not the 
greatness or littleness of " the duty nearest hand," but the 
spirit in which one does it, that makes one's doing noble or 
mean. I can't think how people who have any natural 
ambition and any sense of power in them escape going mad 
in a world like this without the recognition of that. I know 
I was very near mad when I found it out for myself (as one 
has to find out for oneself everything that is to be of any 
real practical use to one). 

292 Some Old Love Stories 

Shall I tell you how it came into my head ? Perhaps it 
may be of comfort to you in similar moments of fatigue and 
disgust. I had gone with my husband to live on a little 
estate of peat-bog that had descended to me all the way 
down from John Welsh the Covenanter, who married a 
daughter of John Knox. That didn't, I am ashamed to say, 
make me feel Craigenputtock a whit less of a peat-bog, and 
a most dreary, untoward place to live at. In fact, it was 
sixteen miles distant on every side from all the conveniences 
of life, shops, and even post-office. Further, we were very 
poor, and further and worst, being an only child, and brought 
up to " great prospects," I was sublimely ignorant of every 
branch of useful knowledge, though a capital Latin scholar 
and very fair mathematician ! It behoved me in these 
astonishing circumstances to learn to sew ! Husbands, I was 
shocked to find, wore their stockings into holes, and were 
always losing buttons, and I was expected to "look to all 
that " ; also it behoved me to learn to cook ! no capable 
servant choosing to live at such an out-of-the-way place, and 
my husband having bad digestion, which complicated my 
difficulties dreadfully. The bread, above all, brought from 
Dumfries "soured on his stomach" (oh, Heaven!), and it 
was plainly my duty as a Christian wife to bake at home. So 
I sent for Cobbett's Cottage Economy, and fell to work at a 
loaf of bread. But knowing nothing about the process of 
fermentation or the heat of ovens, it came to pass that my 
loaf got put into the oven at the time that myself ought to 
have been put into bed ; and I remained the only person 
not asleep in a house in the middle of a desert. One o'clock 
struck, and then two, and then three ; and still I was sitting 
there in an immense solitude, my whole body aching with 
weariness, my heart aching with a sense of forlornness and 
degradation that I, who had been so petted at home, 
whose comfort had been studied by everybody in the house, 
who had never been required to do anything but cultivate 
my mind, should have to pass all those hours of the night 
in watching a loaf of bread — which mightn't turn out bread 
after all ! Such thoughts maddened me, till I laid down my 
head on the table and sobbed aloud. It was then that 
somehow the idea of Benvenuto Cellini sitting up all night 

Carlyle and his Wife 293 

watching his Perseus in the furnace came into my head, and 
suddenly Pasked myself : " After all, in the sight of the Upper 
Powers, what is the mighty difference between a statue of 
Perseus and a loaf of bread, so that each be the thing one's 
hand has found to do?" The man's determined will, his 
energy, his patience, his resource, were the really admirable 
things, of which his statue of Perseus was the mere chance 
expression. If he had been a woman living at Craigenput- 
tock, with a dyspeptic husband, sixteen miles from a baker, 
and he a bad one, all these same qualities would have come 
out more fitly in a good loaf of bread. 

I cannot express what consolation this germ of an idea 
spread over my uncongenial life during the years we lived at 
that savage place, where my two immediate predecessors 
had gone mad, and the third had taken to drink. 

I do not pause to dwell on all the tragic notes 
of suffering, passion, despair, which are to be read 
into this description ; anybody who cannot feel all 
its sad and fierce pulsation must have a singularly 
poor and unsympathetic imagination. The one 
remark it is necessary for me to make is that the 
letter is a fine piece of literature : and one of the 
abounding proofs that a great writer was lost in 
Mrs. Carlyle. 


The toil, the solitude, the moroseness, and 
silence of Carlyle, and the inclemency of the 
climate, soon began to do their work. In the 
first year of Craigenputtock the old Jane Welsh 
died, and a new one was born. There could be 
fewer beings more dissimilar than the Jane Welsh 

294 Some Old Love Stories 

whom Haddington knew, and the Mrs. Carlyle 
from this time onwards. Carlyle himself has told 
us that she had a bright, glad laugh ; she has 
proved to the reader already the vivacity and 
joyfulness of her spirit, and, under all her hardness, 
there are many indications that she had a world 
of tenderness, if only there were some person to 
bring it forth. But the gaiety had now all gone ; 
the strength of courage and will were there, but 
they were given, not in the sweet service of love, 
but as the broken-spirited slave's payment of 
expected toll ; and the tenderness had turned to a 
bitter-hearted and bitter-tongued cynicism. " She 
took refuge," says Froude, " in a kind of stoicism, 
which was but a thin disguise for disappointment, 
and at times for misery." And above all things 
she began to develop all those nervous horrors 
by which outraged Nature is accustomed to wreak 
her vengeance for disobedience of her laws. Mar- 
riage had not brought to the wife the satisfaction 
of either soul or heart or body. It was without 
reverence or affection or the intimate physical 
communion which is to marriage, not its assoiling, 
but its sanctification. 

Now and again there was a danger-signal, which 
only a man as blind and as selfish as Carlyle could 
have misunderstood. In the second winter there 
was an episode, which Froude thus describes— 

All went well till the close of December ; a fat goose had 
been killed for the New Year's feast ; when the snow fell and 

Carlyle and his Wife 295 

the frost came, and she caught a violent sore throat, which 
threatened to end in diphtheria. There was no doctor nearer 
than Dumfries, and the road from the valley was hardly 
passable. Mrs. Welsh struggled up from Templand through 
the snow-drifts ; care and nursing kept the enemy off, and 
the immediate danger in a few days was over ; but the shock 
had left behind it a sense of insecurity, and the unsuitable- 
ness of such a home for so frail a frame became more than 
ever apparent. 


Rawdon said she should not join in any more such amuse- 
ments ; but, indeed, and perhaps from hints from his elder 
brother and sister, he had already become a very watchful 
and exemplary domestic character. He left off clubs and 
billiards. He never left home. He took Becky out to drive : 
he went laboriously with her to all her parties. Whenever 
my Lord Steyne called, he was sure to find the Colonel. 
And when Becky proposed to go without her husband, or 
received invitations for herself, he peremptorily ordered her 
to refuse them ; and there was that in the gentleman's 
manner which enforced obedience. Little Becky, to do her 
justice, was charmed with Rawdon's gallantry. If he was 
surly, she never was. Whether friends were present or 
absent, she had always a kind smile for him, and was atten- 
tive to his pleasures and his comfort. It was the early days 
of their marriage over again : the same good-humour, 
privenances, merriment, and artless confidence and regard. 
" How much pleasanter it all is," she would say, " to have 
you by my side in the carriage than that foolish old Briggs ! 
Let us always go on so, dear Rawdon. How nice it would 
be, and how happy we should always be, if we had but the 
money ! " He fell asleep after dinner in his chair : he did 
not see the face opposite to him, haggard, weary, and terrible. 
It lighted up with fresh candid smiles when he woke, it 
kissed him gaily. 

296 Some Old Love Stories 

It was more than a quarter of a century since I 
had read that passage, when I had got to this 
point in my narrative of the married life of Car- 
lyle and his wife ; and it came back to me vividly 
as though I had read it but yesterday. You 
remember where it occurs : it is in the epoch in 
the married life of Rawdon Crawley and Becky 
Sharpe just before the final separation between 
the two, and the bankruptcy of all Becky's hopes, 
ambitions, dreams, and lies. The picture somehow 
or other returned to me as I dwelt on that strange 
interior in Craigenputtock. Try to picture to 
yourself what it must have been like. The woman 
has all those hours of dreadful loneliness to pass 
through — with nothing to feed on except her own 
morbid fancies, her pent-up wrath, her awful dis- 
illusion. It will be seen by and by that she was 
in a state of constant mental tumult, of angry, 
vengeful, disgusted revolt ; but all the time she 
had schooled herself to silence — perchance to 
smiles and external sweetness ; and to all the 
other arts of mendacity or heroic self-repression 
or shrinking dread of outbursts of male temper, to 
which the long subjection of women has trained 
the whole race. And Carlyle comes down from 
his study, or from his long walks or rides over 
the bleak moor, silent, absorbed, repellent; sur- 
rounded by an atmosphere of isolation and dis- 
tance, ready to resent any approach to tenderness 
or caresses, or often even to speech. And all the 

Carlyle and his Wife 297 

time, if he had not been unconscious with the 
blindness of his selfishness, his self-absorption, and 
his want of observation, he might also have seen 
beside him at table a face not unlike that of 
Becky Sharpe — " haggard, weary, and terrible " as 
hers was. In how many apparently tranquil 
households is such a picture — all unknown to its 
head ; under how many soft looks, and caresses, 
and smiling compliance there is raging a volcanic 
sense of wrong, of neglect, of disappointment ! 

We shall see presently, that if this strange pair 
were silent to each other, if neither knew anything 
of what was passing in the other's soul, it was not 
that they were inarticulate or reticent. Picture 
Carlyle going back to his Journal, and recording, 
as he often did, that he was "the solitariest, 
stranded, most helpless creature " ! And listen 
later to all the bitterness and sadness which over- 
flowed from those silent and compressed lips of 
his wife, from that figure, "haggard, weary, and 
terrible," when Mrs. Carlyle wrote to other 
people : and then ask yourself if there were not 
within the narrow walls of that small, gaunt, 
desolate house in Craigenputtock one of those 
fierce, tragic, and even perilous dramas which 
end in the dock and on the scaffold among people 
of a lower grade, where such fierce passions rage 
under bosoms not disciplined by education and 
inherited self-control to abstention from brutish 

298 Some Old Love Stories 

And now, in order that the picture may be fair 
between the two, look at Carlyle with some 
approach to sympathy, as he sits beside the 
woman he is teaching to hate him. Those beau- 
tiful, brilliant eyes of his, " of a deep violet," writes 
Froude, " with fire burning at the bottom of them, 
which flashed out at the least excitement " — which 
strike and haunt everybody who ever sees them — 
are unable to see the face of his wife, to read the 
suffering or the growing estrangement in her face ; 
but if they cannot see what is near and immedi- 
ately in front — remember what they have seen, 
They have looked out on this black morass ; and 
under the inspiration of its drear and eloquent 
solitude, of its sunsets and sunrises, have beheld 
visions by which the opulence of literature and 
the enjoyment of every succeeding generation 
have been increased beyond price and beyond 
gratitude. It is during these years that Carlyle 
has seen the visions that are found in Sartor 
Resartus ; has lived with Marie Antoinette, Mira- 
beau, Danton ; has marched beside the women on 
the road to Versailles ; has followed Robespierre to 
the scaffold ; and has lived through all the other 
scenes in that wondrous panorama of the French 
Revolution. These eyes ^have therefore all the 
rich light of the visionary — the dreamer of great 
dreams — of the tortured genius, whose throes sup- 
ply the illumination and the joy of many gener- 
ations of men. Selfish — brutally selfish — Carlyle 

Carlyle and his Wife 299 

at Craigenputtock undoubtedly was ; and no one 
can extenuate his conduct. But if he had had the 
good fortune to have been mated with some robust 
country girl, whose highest delight was to minister 
to his bodily wants in silence ; who would have 
found in Craigenputtock no labour to which she 
had been unaccustomed ; who could penetrate 
through the thick silence, and see only the bril- 
liancy of those eyes, filled with the raptures and 
the terrors of his waking dreams and visions — then 
indeed it would have been better for him and 
better for her ; and best of all for the nervous, 
delicate, brilliant, exacting woman who had been 
tied by a cruel destiny to the fiery wheel of such a 


On-LOOKERS were able to appreciate some of 
the too palpable horrors of the situation. To 
them Mrs. Carlyle ventured to throw off the 
mask, and to show the face, " haggard, weary, and 
terrible," which she always carefully concealed 
from Carlyle. Of these on-lookers the kindest, 
tenderest, and most persistent was Jeffrey. I 
have always had a certain dislike for Jeffrey, as 
a representative of that narrow, malignant school 
of criticism which did so much to repress the 
genius and spoil the early years of the finest spirits 
at the beginning of this century. But his conduct 

300 Some Old Love Stories 

to Carlyle and his wife is enough to make any one 
love" him. Though Jeffrey finally estranged Car- 
lyle, it was not that he was not full of consideration 
and tact. It is quite true that he had not under- 
stood Carlyle, and that, as he himself afterwards 
freely confessed, he had underrated Carlyle ; but 
his advice as to Craigenputtock and Mrs. Carlyle 
was sound. 

In October 1828 Jeffrey with his wife and 
daughter paid a rather sudden visit to Craigen- 
puttock. It helps one to form some idea of what 
life was in the place, to learn that Mrs. Carlyle 
had to do " thirty good miles of swift canter," as 
Carlyle puts it, between Craigenputtock and Dum- 
fries, to find the things necessary for the enter- 
tainment of the visitors. It was after this visit 
that Jeffrey wrote to Carlyle the following letter, 
which most other men would have been quick to 
rightly interpret — 

Take care of the fair creature who has trusted herself so 
entirely to you. Do not let her ride about in the wet or 
expose herself to the wintry winds that will by and by visit 
your lofty retreat ; and think seriously of taking shelter in 
Moray Place [Jeffrey's house in Edinburgh] for a month or 
two ; and in the meantime be gay and playful and foolish 
with her, at least as often as you reprove her to be wise and 
heroic with you. You have no mission upon earth, whatever 
you may fancy, half so important as to be innocently happy. 

Some two years later, Jeffrey returned to the 
charge. He besought Carlyle "to bring his 
blooming Eve out of his blasted paradise," and 

Carlyle and his Wife 301 

" seek shelter in the lower world." Before her he 
spread an invitation to a house where she would 
see, instead of the peat morasses of Craigenput- 
tock, "roses and a blue sea, and broad shadows 
stretching over the fields." There was a second 
visit ; more confidences between Jeffrey and Mrs. 
Carlyle ; and, doubtless, more remonstrances to the 
deaf and sullen ears of Carlyle. And so it went 
on, from 1827 to 1834, through six terrible winters, 
through six years, scarce a moment of which was 
with Mrs. Carlyle free from bitterness, weariness, 


When at last the end came, it came too late : 
Mrs. Carlyle's power to live, to enjoy, and to love 
had been destroyed. She had, it is true, a talent 
for complaining, a very vivid imagination, and a 
very vivid pen ; but the evidence is to my mind 
incontestable that her misery was real and was 
terrible. How fearful was the strain upon her 
becomes painfully apparent by an incident which 
occurred when the moment arrived for the ending 
of it all. When Carlyle in 1831 was paying his 
experimental visit to London, she was so anxious 
to hear from him that she used to ride all the way 
to Dumfries and back so as to anticipate the post- 
man : it was the feverish restlessness of the prisoner 
in the last days that preceded her tardy release. 

302 Some Old Love Stories 

And then she came back to the lonely house, 
where the solitude crushes her, excites her feverish 
imagination — "often for hours," she cries, "the 
only sound the sheep nibbling the short grass a 
quarter of a mile away." 

To Carlyle's mother, who had sent Jean and 
Alick Carlyle to keep her from going mad, she 
exclaims in hysteric relief — " I must soon have 
worked myself into a fever or other violent dis- 
order ; for my talent for fancying things . . . had 
so entirely got the upper hand of me, that I could 
neither sleep by night nor rest by day." It was at 
this same period that she wrote the well-known 
Lines to the Swallow, for which I must send the 
reader to Froude. 

As the migration seems to become uncertain, 
she again bursts out with wailings. " Does your 
uncle," she writes to Mrs. Stodart in October 1832, 
" ever make the smallest mention of me ? Ever 
inquire if the mischievous creature who broke his 
'folder' is still working devilry in this planet? 
Alas, no ! she is sober enough now ; a long suc- 
cession of bad days and sleepless nights have 
effectually tamed her. Oh, Bess, for one good 
laugh with you, for the sake of the old time ! " 
To John Carlyle, her husband's brother, she excuses 
herself for delay in answering a letter with the 
words — " In truth I am always so sick now and 
so heartless that I cannot apply myself to any 
mental effort without a push from Necessity." 

Carlyle and his Wife 303 

And finally, when the news of final release had 
come, it brought no joy. To John Carlyle she 
writes again — 

I almost wish that I felt more anxiety about our future ; 
for this composure is not courage, but diseased indifference 
There is a sort of incrustation about the inward me, that 
renders it alike miserable to fear and to hope. 

And it is thus she speaks of emigrating from the 
hideous solitude of Craigenputtock to that city of 
crowds, of men and women of genius, of society, of 
admirers — of all these things which had been the 
dream and the ambition of her early days ! 

But perhaps the best description of the change 
that Craigenputtock had made in Jane Welsh is 
that of her old nurse. I close this part of the 
story with it, as the fitting epitaph on the tomb of 
a woman's happiness — 

Ah, when she was young she was a fleein', dancin', light- 
heartit thing, Jeannie Welsh, that naething would have 
daunted. But she grew grave a' at once. There was 
Maister Irving, ye ken, that had been her teacher ; and he 

cam' aboot her. Then there was Maister . Then there 

was Maister Carlyle himself, and he cam' to finish her off 


I FEEL I have dwelt at disproportionate length 
on the earlier years of the life of Carlyle and his 
wife : I shall be compelled in consequence to deal 
more briefly and in rather a hurried and huddled 

304 Some Old Love Stories 

fashion with the remainder of their existence to- 
gether. There is this justification, however, for the 
disproportion — that it was at Craigenputtock the 
foundations of all their subsequent days together 
were laid ; that the habits, the reserve, the disillu- 
sions which tortured Mrs. Carlyle throughout the 
rest of her life, began there ; that the terms between 
her and her husband entered into that stereotyped 
form of daily habits which it is so difficult ever to 

There was every reason why Mrs. Carlyle should 
have hoped to have found life much brighter at 
Cheyne Row, however, than she had found it at 
Craigenputtock. There were always plenty of 
visitors at her house ; and the main attraction to 
many, if not to most of them, was the wife, not 
the husband. Miss Cushman describes her as a 
"raconteur unparalleled," and I have heard the 
present Marchioness of Ripon declare that when 
she was a girl, she preferred going to listen to 
Mrs. Carlyle's conversation than to anything else 
London had to offer in the shape of entertainment. 
It was more amusing than any theatre — more 
enthralling than any opera. 

At first, of course, there was poverty, and the 
prospect of entire failure by Carlyle; there was 
the bitter thrift which these stern Scotch people 
imposed on themselves, and in addition there was 
the fact that Carlyle's recognition came very very 
slowly. But these trials of early life— especially of 

Carlyle and his Wife 305 

early literary life — what would they have been, 
after all, if the Carlyles had been people of average 
sanity of body and mind, and above all, if Carlyle 
and his wife had loved each other in the full 
communion of a true marriage ? 

At all events London brought Mrs. Carlyle no 
happiness. Every glimpse we get of her inner life 
throughout the whole period shows a soul torn by 
rage in the hours of strength, devoured by despair 
in the more frequent hours of apathy and fatigue. 
The different epochs of Carlyle's life in London 
are marked by a vast difference in his outer and 
financial circumstances. From poverty he reaches 
comparative wealth : from galling obscurity to 
almost universal adulation ; but in Mrs. Carlyle 
the only change which all this makes is that the 
nerves break down more and more under the strain 
of her unlifting unhappiness ; that bodily infirmity 
follows upon constant mental unrest ; and that, 
finally, bodily infirmity is transformed into acute, 
sometimes maddening, physical pain. 

It is objected to this view of Mrs. Carlyle's 
married life that she made a great hubbub about 
the smallest trifles ; that her housekeeping troubles, 
over which she raises such vociferous lamentations, 
are the ordinary and inevitable troubles of every 
housekeeper in these isles ; and that the pother over 
these trifles must be due to a very lively imagina- 
tion and to a very eloquent pen. From this the 
inference is made that, as it was in her housekeep- 


306 Some Old Love Stones 

ing, so it was in other things ; that her sufferings 
with her husband were really nothing more than 
the bickerings, jars, and sorrows of almost every 
married life, of even harmonious unions ; and that, 
on the whole, her married life, instead of being 
regarded as exceptionally miserable, must on the 
contrary be regarded as happy above the average. 

I take a wholly opposite view, as the reader 
will know by this time ; and I believe it a duty to 
press that view as strongly as I can. It were 
waste of breath and time to disentomb this tragedy 
over again, if one were to find m it no lesson and 
no guidance. I admit that, to me, its purely per- 
sonal element has a profound, almost a morbid 
fascination. But it is not in its purely personal 
element that I find its great attraction ; it is the 
sense — the strong and vehement sense — that we 
have in this personal tragedy a great object-lesson 
as to the proper conditions of married life, as to all 
the relations of men and women ; and above all, as 
to the cruelty of the law of subjection under which 
women suffer. 

And now, coming back to the question whether 
Mrs. Carlyle's life was as unhappy as she painted 
it, my conclusion is that it is impossible to resist 
the evidence in favour of this view. It is the 
evidence of contemporary document — and of con- 
temporary document in its most authentic and 
convincing form : of letters written off in hot blood 
and with running pen ; of the outbursts of un- 

Carlyle and his Wife 307 

guarded conversation ; of the confidences of journals 
which were not intended for the public eye. 

The moment I touch on the journals there is an 
outburst of objection. It is pointed out — and with 
truth — that during the evening on which Carlyle 
writes that he was one of the saddest, solitariest of 
men, he had been cheerful, gay, and courteous to 
everybody in a large circle of visitors ; and that, 
therefore, his sadness and solitariness were nothing 
better than a vain imagining — or a pretence — or 
the reaction of solitude after society. 

But assuredly this is a very shallow criticism of 
most people— above all, of people self-absorbed 
and introspective as the Carlyles were. The real 
moments in which to test our happiness or misery 
are the moments when we are alone. After all, our 
own selves are our most constant companions. 
Judge of the state of a man's soul when he stands 
in his own chamber, alone with his own innermost 
thoughts, with his naked self. If then he be sad, 
he is a sad man; if gay, he is a joyous one. In 
Carlyle's letters and journals, in the letters and 
journals of Carlyle's wife, we see their real selves 
far better than those who saw them with their 
society manners, courtesies, and concealments. 
" Her drawn, suffering face," says Froude of Mrs. 
Carlyle, "haunted me afterwards like a ghost;" 
and so it haunts me, and so it ought to haunt 
every man and woman of feeling, if not till the end 
of time, to the hour when the hideous fabric of 


o8 Some Old Love Stories 

wrong and inequality and of mistaken duty, of 
which she was the type and the victim, has been 
finally overthrown. 


To apportion the blame for Mrs. Carlyle's un- 
happiness, so that we may assay her or her 
husband's share of the responsibility to an exact 
nicety, were indeed impossible. She had terrible 
faults of character : some felt this so keenly as to 
positively dislike her — the gentle Browning among 
others, who always regarded her as a hard and 
unlovable woman. Froude loved her, but he says, 
" charming, witty, brilliantly playful as she natur- 
ally was, she had ' a hot temper,' as Carlyle had 
said, and a tongue when she was angry like a cat's, 
which would take the skin off at a touch." When 
she poured oil into your wounds, said Geraldine 
Jewsbury, the closest and most loving friend she 
ever had, it is oil of vitriol. And, above all things, 
she was without the readiness to forgive which, in 
man and woman — and more in woman than in 
man even — is the extenuation and the blotting out 
of the offences of quickness of temper and sharp- 
ness of tongue. His was the soft nature, says 
Froude over and over again : she was the flint. 
And it is a highly significant contrast between the 
two, that she cared deeply and unquestioningly for 

Carlyle and his Wife 309 

her father alone out of all her family, while between 
Carlyle and every member of his family there was 
a touching, deep, and noble affection. 

I set down all these things against Mrs. Carlyle, 
for it is not my desire to represent her as in the 
least angelic ; but it does not alter my view in the 
least as to whose were the main guilt and the 
responsibility for the wreck of her life. The truth 
is, Carlyle was a perfectly unlovable man to live 
with. Whatever there was in the depth of his 
heart, he was in practice, habit, and demeanour 
selfish, tyrannical, bad-tempered to a degree which 
scarcely any woman could have stood — except a 
woman who was a merely robust fool and domestic 
drudge. It is not only his own remorse which 
avows and proves this — one might minimize that 
evidence because he was imaginative and self- 
reproachful and lonely — but every witness of his 
life with his wife, certain facts which cannot be 
contested, and above all things, the continual 
nervous and physical suffering through which his 
wife passed gradually from her joyous girlhood to 
her hard and suffering maturity, and then to her 
broken and tortured age. 

There is one document in the vast storehouse 
of documents which I regard as specially valuable. 
It is a simple, unaffected, careless — almost bald 
letter : and just for these reasons, it puts the case 
with candidness, clearness, and conclusiveness. It 
is a letter written by Miss Gully, sister of Dr. 

310 Some Old Love Stories 

Gully who saw Carlyle and his wife on a visit 
they paid to her father's hydropathic establishment 
at Malvern. Here is an extract — 

I think Carlyle ought never to have married anybody — 
he ought to have lived alone and had a good cook. Mrs. 
Carlyle was wasted on him entirely, and thrown into a 
sphere of life and duties for which she was quite unsuited — 
he, in his richest days, would never have more than one 
servant [this was afterwards changed], and you know how 
servants-of-all-work cook, and he, dyspeptic, tore his hair 
if the meat was tough. Their hospitality was beautiful . . . 
they neither of them cared a bit about food, only he could 
not digest common cookery ! . . . I don't myself see that 
he had any right to indulge in the delight of a witty wife, 
and yet indulge in his idiosyncrasy of only having one 
cheap servant. ... I must admit that he was at times 
selfish and not kind to his wife, when we knew them. 
Totally inconsiderate of her health, I remember one or two 
occasions on which she, suffering far more than he, was 
sent journeys by him in order to secure his comforts . . . 

Mrs. Carlyle herself may be quoted for one 
or two additional touches to this picture. She 
described living beside Carlyle, in a letter written 
in 1858, as "the life of a weathercock in high 
wind." When they were even together in a house 
near Aberdeen, she compared herself to " the 
keeper of a mad-house." A further proof of what 
she felt is the fact that whenever they took 
vacations, it was nearly always separately. It is 
one of the curiosities and the contradictions of 
this extraordinary couple that their letters to 
each other were full of affection — his especially. 
But if we want a specimen of the cutting cruelty 

Carlyle and his Wife 3 1 1 

there could be in the tongue of Mrs. Carlyle, it is 
to be found in the charge she made against her 
husband, that he wrote beautiful letters for the pur- 
pose of supplying good material to his biographer. 


The most convincing proof, however, of what 
kind of a man Carlyle was to live with, was the 
effect that he had upon Mrs. Carlyle. The abun- 
dant records are as painful and, indeed, as tragic 
reading as I know in the literature of wedded life. 

The first and worst feature is that loss of sleep, 
which is the most eloquent proof of broken nerves. 
Those who are accustomed to the horrors and 
terrors of sleeplessness will be able to read with 
a keen sympathy and understanding what Mrs. 
Carlyle writes of this awful retribution, which 
Nature demands from those who have disobeyed 
or have been unable to obey her laws. Mrs. 
Carlyle belonged to the latter class : and with 
that fact in your mind, read this description of 
her married life. It should be premised that 
Carlyle's bedroom was above Mrs. Carlyle's. 

My own wakings some twenty or thirty times every night 
of my life, for years and years back, are as nothing com- 
pared with hearing him jump out of bed overhead, once 
or sometimes twice during a night. . . . Now that my 
nerves have had a rest, and that I am more "used to it," 
I get to sleep again when all is quiet, but God knows how 
long I may be up to that. And when he has broken sleep 
at all, it is sad work here, I assure you. 

312 Some Old Love Stories 


The records of sleeplessness are soon followed 
by the mention of that other factor in the wreck- 
ing of mind and body which sleeplessness so often 
produces. In 1848 she speaks of "morphine 
dreams " as if it were already a familiar thing to 
her. From this year onwards morphine is con- 
stantly occurring. On settling down at home she 
writes, after a visit to Carlyle's mother at Scots- 
brig—" After all, these wanderings had been a 
serious piece of work for both Mr. Carlyle and 
myself ; for me, I have only managed it by a large 
consumption of morphine." Everybody knows 
that narcotics produce a reaction more terrible to 
bear than the disease of which they are so perilous 
a remedy ; and one can understand how, with 
nerves shattered by pain and made susceptible 
by drugs, Mrs. Carlyle at times must have been 
as unbearable to others as to herself. I know no 
juxtaposition of self-revelations more pathetic and 
tragic than the extracts from Carlyle's Journal 
and his wife's correspondence in the very year 
when apparently morphine first began to play its 
tormenting part. I have just given an extract 
from a letter of Mrs. Carlyle. Here is one from 
Carlyle's Journal in a letter to her — 

How lonely am I now grown in that world ; how hard 
... all the old tremulous affection lies in me, but it is as 

Carlyle and his Wife 313 

if frozen. So mocked and scourged, and driven mad by 
contradictions, it had, as it were, laid down in a kind of iron 
sleep. . . . God help me ! God soften me again ! 

" Took morphine last night," she writes in a 
letter in 1850 to her husband, " and slept sound." 
" Three nights ago in desperation," she writes in 
1852 to her husband, "took a great dose of 
morphine . . . and was thankful to get some 
four hours of something like forgetfulness by that 
' questionable ' means." 

In 1855 there is, under the date October 25, 
this entry in her Journal — " My heart is very 
sore to-night, but I have promised myself not to 
make this Journal a miserere, so I will take a 
dose of morphia and do the impossible to sleep." 
And finally, in order to give a clear conception 
of the state to which this continual want of sleep 
and the use of drugs had preyed on her life, I 
shall quote a few of the many wails that are 
scattered over her letters and her Journal. 

The most outrageous sceptic (she writes to her husband), 
even I, after two nights without sleep — cannot go ahead 
against that fact, a rather cheering one on the whole, that, 
let one's earthly difficulties be what they may, death will 
make them all smooth sooner or later, and either one shall 
have a trial at existence again under new conditions, or sleep 
soundly through all eternity. That last used to be a horrible 
thought for me, but it is not so any longer. I am weary, 
weary to such a point of moral exhaustion, that any anchorage 
were welcome, even the stillest, coldest, where the wicked 
would cease from troubling and the weary be at rest, under- 
standing both by the wicked and the weary — myself. 

314 Some Old Love Stories 

And here are a few extracts from her Journal 
in 1855 — 

November 6. — They must be comfortable people who have 
leisure to think about going to heaven. My most constant 
and pressing desire is to keep out of Bedlam. 

November 7. — What a sick day this] has been with me! 
Oh, my mother ! nobody sees when I am suffering now. 

December 4. — Oh, to cure any one of a terror of annihi- 
lation, just put him on my allowance of sleep, and see if he 
does not get to long for sleep — sleep unfathomable and ever- 
lasting, sleep as the only conceivable heaven. 

Finally, there is the memorable letter to Miss 
Barnes, in which Mrs. Carlyle pronounces on 
marriage the dreadest condemnation which any 
woman has ever written. 

And you are actually going to get married ! you ! already ! 
And you expect me to congratulate you, or " perhaps not." 
I admire the judiciousness of that " perhaps not." Frankly, 
my dear, I wish you all happiness in the new life that is 
opening to you ; and you are marrying under good auspices, 
since your father approves of the marriage. But congratu- 
lation on such occasions seems to me a tempting of Provi- 
dence. The triumphal-procession-air which, in our manners 
and customs, is given to marriage at the outset — that singing 
of Te Deum before the battle has begun — has, ever since I 
could reflect, struck me as somewhat senseless and somewhat 
impious. If ever one is to pray, if ever one is to feel grave 
and anxious, if ever one is to shrink from vain show and vain 
babble — surely it is just on the occasion of two human beings 
binding themselves to one another, for better and for worse, 
till death part them ; just on that occasion which it is 
customary to celebrate only with rejoicings, and congratu- 
lations, and trousseaux, and white ribbon ! Good God ! 
Will you think me mad if I tell you that when I read your 

words, " I am going to be married," I all but screamed ? 

Positively, it took away my breath, as if I saw you in the act 

Carlyle and his Wife 315 

of taking a flying leap into infinite space. You had looked 
to me such a happy, happy little girl ! your father's only 
daughter ; and he so fond of you, as he evidently was. 
After you had walked out of our house together that night, 
and I had gone up to my own room, I sat down there in the 
dark and took "a good cry." You had reminded me so 
vividly of my own youth, when I, also an only daughter — an 
only child — had a father as fond of me, as proud of me. I 
wondered if you knew your own happiness. Well ! knowing 
it or not, it has not been enough for you, it would seem. 
Naturally, youth is so insatiable of happiness, and has such 
sublimely insane faith in its own power to make happy and 
be happy. 

But of your father ? Who is to cheer his toilsome life, and 
make home bright for him ? His companion through half a 
lifetime gone ! his dear " bit of rubbish " gone too, though in 
a different sense. Oh, little girl ! little girl ! do you know 
the blank you will make to him ? 

Now, upon my honour, I seem to be writing just such a 
letter as a raven might write if it had been taught. Perhaps 
the henbane I took in despair last night has something to 
do with my mood to-day. Anyhow, when one can only ray 
out darkness, one had best clap an extinguisher on oneself. 
And so God bless you ! 

I have not thought it necessary to go into some 
other causes which led to this continual unhappi- 
ness, as to my mind the central and supreme 
cause was always Carlyle. I mention merely 
incidentally, therefore, and hurriedly, the intimacy 
between Carlyle and Lady Ashburton, which, as 
everybody knows, played so terribly an important 
part in the life of Mrs. Carlyle. For ten years 
Mrs. Carlyle suffered all the agonies of jealousy 
because of Mr. Carlyle's attention to this lady. 
No doubt her jealousy was irrational : jealousy 

316 Some Old Love Stones 

is not usually rational ; but was it wholly without 
justification ? Lady Ashburton does not come 
very well out of the whole business. To my 
mind she was guilty of acts to Carlyle and 
his wife which showed a great want of high 
courtesy in her to inflict, and a more considerable 
want of self-respect in Carlyle not to have resented. 
For instance, there is the well-known carriage 
incident of 1856. I quote from Froude — 

The Carlyles were going for a holiday to Scotland ; Lady 
Ashburton was going also. She had engaged a palatial 
carriage, which had been made for the Queen and her suite, 
and she proposed to take the Carlyles down with her. The 
carriage consisted of a spacious saloon, to which, communi- 
cating with it, an ordinary compartment with the usual six 
seats was attached. Lady Ashburton occupied the saloon 
alone. Mrs. Carlyle, though in bad health and needing rest 
as much as Lady A., was placed in the compartment with 
her husband, the family doctor, and Lady A.'s maid, a posi- 
tion perfectly proper for her if she was a dependent, but 
in which no lady could have been placed whom Lady Ash- 
burton regarded as her own equal in rank. It may be that 
Mrs. Carlyle chose to have it so herself. But Lady A. ought 
not to have allowed it, and Carlyle ought not to have allowed 
it, for it was a thing wrong in itself. One is not surprised 
to find that when Lady A. offered to take her home in the 
same way she refused to go. " If there were any com- 
panionship in the matter," she said bitterly, when Carlyle 
communicated Lady A.'s proposal, " it would be different, or 
if you go back with the Ashburtons it will be different, as 
then I should be going as part of your luggage without self- 

But the great justification of Mrs. Carlyle's 
resentment is the fact that Carlyle gave all that 
was best and most engaging of himself to another 

Carlyle and his Wife 317 

woman and at another woman's house, while at 
home he remained the silent, surly, unapproachable 
bear of his early days. This is too common a 
contrast in the conduct of men to women, and to 
their wives especially — the women whom economic 
as well as social laws usually place, alone of all 
women in the world, at the mercy of their caprices 
and their moods. But the vice does not become the 
less a vice because of its frequency. Many good 
women have been shocked at the entry in Mrs. 
Carlyle's Journal in which she draws the contrast 
between the early promise of her life as a spoilt and 
only child, and her position at the moment recorded, 
in mending Mr. Carlyle's trousers while he is else- 
where. It is doubless true that a real wife would find 
any such lowly occupation a joy and satisfaction, 
but it should be a condition that the husband 
loved and was loved ; that condition being absent 
in the case of Mr. Carlyle. It was only natural 
that a woman in Mrs. Carlyle's position should 
draw a bitter contrast between herself, sitting 
lonely and occupied at home in menial work, and 
her lord and master lionized in the halls of the 


I APPROACH with some relief the closing scenes 
of the painful tragedy. On an evening in 1863 
there occurred the accident of which the world 

3 1 8 Some Old Love Stories 

has heard so much. Mrs. Carlyle had gone to call 
at a cousin's house in Martin's Lane, and as she 
was rushing to catch an omnibus she was thrown 
by a cab on the kerbstone. Her right arm by this 
time had become quite useless through continued 
neuralgia, and she was unable to break the fall ; 
with the result that she fell heavily, the sinews of 
one of her thighs were strained and lacerated, and 
she suffered dreadful pain. I continue the story in 
the language of Mr. Henry Larkin, who for many 
years acted as secretary and assistant to Carlyle. 
Anybody can read between the lines and see its 
tragic significance. 

I recollect ithat evening perfectly, and also the scene of 
helpless misery which in a few words he so distinctly photo- 
graphs. But the eye only sees what it brings the means of 
seeing ; and he little thought it was his own presence which 
had "suddenly produced the collapse which struck him so 
painfully. To make the picture which thus fixed itself on 
his memory intelligible, it will be necessary to explain, or, 
perhaps, as he would say, to " reiterate," that few men have 
been constitutionally less able to cope with unexpected 
difficulties than he was. In any case of confusion or embar- 
rassment, it was sheer misery to have him even standing by 
and looking on ; his own irritable impatience was at once so 
contagious and so depressing. It was a constant struggle 
on Mrs. Carlyle's part either to keep him out of the way, or 
to take the opportunity of his being away from home to effect 
any changes which might have become necessary ; and this 
as much for his own sake as for hers. 

On the evening in question I was sitting quietly at home 
when I heard a gentle rap at the door, and was informed that 
Mrs. Carlyle's servant wished to speak to me. She told me 
that Mrs. Carlyle had just been brought home in a cab, 
seriously hurt by a fall, and begged I would come in at 

Carlyle and his Wife 319 

once. I went instantly, and found her on a chair in the back 
room of the ground floor, evidently in great pain. As soon 
as she saw me, she said, "Oh, Mr. Larkin, do get me up 
into my own room before Mr. Carlyle knows anything about 
it. He'll drive me mad if he comes in now ! " We at once 
consulted as to how we could best carry her up ; when, just 
as we were about to do it, he entered, as he tells us, looking 
terribly shocked and even angry. I saw he was annoyed at 
my being there instead of him ; so I said as little as possible, 
helped him to carry her up-stairs, and then left. 

It was while she was suffering from this dreadful 
illness that one of the most frightful incidents in 
her whole marriage life occurred. I give Froude's 
account of it. 

Carlyle was not allowed to know how seriously she had 
been injured. The doctor and she both agreed to conceal it 
from him, and during those first days a small incident 
happened, which she herself described to me, showing the 
distracting want of perception which sometimes characterized 
him — a want of perception, not a want of feeling, for no one 
could have felt more tenderly. The nerves and muscles were 
completely disabled on the side on which she had fallen, and 
one effect was that the under jaw had dropped, and that she 
could not close it. Carlyle always disliked an open mouth ; 
he thought it a sign of foolishness. One morning, when the 
pain was at its worst, he came into her room, and stood 
looking at her, leaning on the mantel-piece. "Jane," he 
said presently, " ye had better shut your mouth." She tried 
to tell him that she could not. "Jane," he began again, 
"ye'll find yourself in a more compact and pious frame of 
mind if ye shut your mouth." In old-fashioned and, in him, 
perfectly sincere phraseology he told her that she ought to be 
thankful that the accident was no worse. Mrs. Carlyle hated 
cant as heartily as he, and to her, in her sore state of mind 
and body, such words had a flavour of cant in them. True 
herself as steel, she would not bear it. " Thankful ! " she 
said to him ; " thankful for what ? For having been thrown 

320 Some Old Love Stories 

down in the street when I had gone on an errand of charity ? 
for being disabled, crushed, made to suffer in this way ? I 
am not thankful, and I will not say that I am." He left her, 
saying he was sorry to see her so rebellious. We can 
hardly wonder after this that he had to report sadly to his 
brother — " She speaks little to me, and does not accept me 
as a sick nurse, which, truly, I had never any talent to be." 

Of course he did not know at first her real condition. She 
had such indomitable courage that she persuaded him that 
she was actually better off since she had become helpless 
than "when she had been struggling to go out daily and 
returned done up, with her joints like to fall in pieces." For 
a month she could not move — at the end of it she was able 
to struggle to her feet and crawl occasionally into the 
adjoining room. Carlyle was blind. Seven weeks after the 
accident he could write — "She actually sleeps better, eats 
better, and is cheerfuller than formerly. For perhaps three 
weeks past she has been hitching about with a stick. She 
can walk too, but slowly, without a stick. In short, she is 
doing well enough — as indeed am I, and have need to be." 

It almost makes one blush for one's manhood to 
read such a scene, and it made Carlyle blush and 
weep for ever afterwards. In the very next page 
of his Reminiscences, which tells the story of her 
suffering in this illness, there is this touching 
outburst — 

Blind and deaf that we are ! Oh, think if thou yet love 
any body living, wait not till death sweeps down the paltry 
little dust-clouds and idle dissonances of the moment, and 
all be at last so mournfully clear and beautiful, when it is too 
late ! 

One of the most touching scenes in the history 
of this strange life is that of the November evening 
in 1863 when Froude and his wife paid a visit to 
Carlyle and his wife. Carlyle at this moment was 

Carlyle and his Wife 321 

in the final agonies of getting rid of that terrible 
book on Frederick which had been a torment to 
himself and his wife for thirteen long years. At 
the moment he began to make the painful and 
almost terrible discovery that the book had become 
a very nightmare and a horror, and instead of 
finishing it " like a rocket stick " he must write a 
new volume. " For his sake," writes Froude, " and 
knowing how the truth, if he was aware of it, 
would agitate him, with splendid heroism she had 
forced herself prematurely to her feet again, the 
mental resolution conquering the weakness of the 

I go to Carlyle's own account again, for they are 
amongst the most touching pages in the Lettei's 
and Memorials. 

Not many evenings after the last of these two letters, I 
was sitting solitary over my dreary Prussian books, as usual, 
in the drawing-room, perhaps about ten p.m., the room 
perhaps X without my knowledge) made trimmer than usual, 
when suddenly, without warning given, the double door from 
her bedroom went wide open, and my little darling, all 
radiant in graceful evening dress, followed by a maid with 
new lights, came gliding in to me, gently stooping, leaning 
on a fine Malacca cane, saying silently but so eloquently, 
" Here am I come back to you, dear ! " It was among the 
bright moments of my life — the picture of it is still vivid with 
me, and will always be. Till now I had not seen her in the 
drawing-room, had only heard of those tentative pilgrimings 
thither with her maid for support. But now I consideredjthe 
victory as good as won, and everything fallen into its old 
course again or a better. Blind that we were ! This was 
but a gleam of sunlight, and ended swiftly in a far blacker 
storm of miseries than ever before. 


322 Some Old Love Stories 

And here is another pathetic extract — 

" Neuralgia ! " the doctors then all said, by which they 
mean they know not in the least what ; in this case, such a 
deluge of intolerable pain, indescribable, unaidable pain, as I 
had never seen or dreamt of, and which drowned six or eight 
months of my poor darling's life as in the blackness of very 
death ; her recovery at last, and the manner of it, an un- 
expected miracle to me. There seemed to be pain in every 
muscle, misery in every nerve, no sleep by night or day, no 
rest from struggle and desperate suffering. Nobody ever 
known to me could more nobly and silently endure pain ; but 
here for the first time I saw her vanquished, driven hopeless, 
as it were looking into a wild chaotic universe of boundless 
woe — on the horizon only death or worse. Oh ! I have seen 
such expressions in those dear and beautiful eyes as exceeded 
all tragedy ! — one night in particular, when she rushed des- 
perately out to me, without speech ; got laid and wrapped by 
me on the sofa, and gazed silently on all the old familiar 
objects and me. 

At last it was seen that her final chance of 
recovery was to leave London, and I may add to 
leave Carlyle also ; for doubtless much of her 
misery was due to her feeling that she was adding 
to his discomfort and difficulty in ending his book ; 
possibly, too, he was not slow on this occasion, as 
well as on others, to express himself rather un- 
feelingly at the slowness of her recovery. In a 
letter of hers written soon after the accident I 
find this passage, which I have not seen noticed by 
any of her biographers, but it is one which throws 
as lurid a light as any I have yet quoted on what 
she felt about Carlyle, and how Carlyle appeared 
to her. " My great object," she says, " after getting 

Carlyle and his Wife 323 

what waiting on I absolutely needed, has been that 
the usual quiet routine of the house should not be 
disturbed around Mr. Carlyle. Of this I am sure, 
that he has been victimized enough in having to 
answer occasional letters of inquiry about me." 

On March 2, 1864, Mrs. Carlyle was removed to 
St. Leonards, and we have an account of that 
strange flitting both from Mr. Carlyle and Mr. 

" I don't think you will find me very very heavy," 
she said to Mr. Larkin, and indeed he did not, for, 
says he, " I carried her down as easily as if she 
had been a child of twelve years old." She had to 
take her departure in an invalid carnage. " Hideous 
to look upon," says Carlyle, "black, low, base- 
looking, and you entered by a window as if it were 
a hearse." " Worst of all," as Mr. Larkin puts it, 
" the live corpse was to be slid in feet foremost." 

I saw at a glance (he says) the whole horror of the thing 
as it would strike her . . . she was already being carried 
from the house. I shall never forget the agony of the stifled 
shriek which she could not suppress as they lifted and pushed 
her in. 

She returned to Cheyne Row in October 1864, 
at last free from pain, " no more," as Carlyle puts 
it, " flying from the tormentor, panting like a 
hunted doe, with all the hounds in full chase." 
" She reappeared," writes Froude, " in her old 
circle, weak, shattered, her body worn to a shadow, 
but with a spirit as bright as ever — brighter 

324 Some Old Love Stories 

perhaps." " A faint, quiet, timid smile was on her 
facej" says Carlyle, "as though afraid to believe 
fully she was brought back to me, my own again 
as before." 


We approach the closing epoch. Carlyle him- 
self thus describes it — 

Here ended the most tragic part of our tragedy. Act the 
fifth, though there lay Death in it, was nothing like so un- 
happy. The last epoch of my darling's life is to be defined 
as almost happy in comparison ! It was still loaded with 
infirmities, bodily weakness, sleeplessness, continual, or 
almost continual, pain and weary misery, so far as the body 
was concerned ; but her noble spirit seemed as if it now had 
its wings free. . . . The battle was over, and we were sore 
wounded ; but the battle was over and well ! 

What added sunshine to this brief period of rest, 
freedom from pain, and mental calm, was that at 
last Carlyle had begun to be a real friend to his 
wife, that at last the demon of jealousy had been 
exorcised from her heart, and she had discovered 
that in his own strange fashion he deeply and ten- 
derly loved her. " I can't tell you," she writes to a 
friend, " how good Mr. Carlyle is ; he is as busy as 
ever, but he studies my comfort and peace as he 
never did before." 

It was in the year 1 864 that he also gratified her 
by giving her the use of a brougham. Mr. Larkin 
declares that he never saw Mrs. Carlyle so pleased 

Carlyle and his Wife 325 

with anything as with this gift from her husband. 
" What gives me the most joy," she said to Mr. 
Larkin, " is that he did it entirely himself. I never 
suggested, on the contrary I had always dis- 
couraged the idea." 

And finally, when on January 9, 1865, Carlyle 
posted the "last leaf" of his Frederick MS., there 
was an end of that terrible work, which had been 
almost fatal to both the husband and wife ; which, 
in her case, was so far fatal as to be probably the 
proximate cause of her final break-down. "On 
her face," writes Carlyle, " there was a silent, faint 
and pathetic smile" — as well there might have 

There were through 1865 some sharp attacks 
of the old neuralgic tortures, with days of deep 
depression and nights without sleep ; and there 
were ominous signs of growing weakness, that 
might have prepared her husband for the end. 
Now and then there are complaints of Carlyle's 
impatience of spirit — an impatience that in all his 
anxiety to repress, and with all the too palpable 
misery it caused to her, he was not able always to 
control. For instance, owing to the lameness of 
their horse, Mrs. Carlyle had to substitute drives in 
omnibuses for those in the brougham. The sight s 
of Carlyle running after the omnibuses to get them 
to stop for her, proved too much for her. " I wa 
like," she writes, " to cry with nervousness to find 
myself left alone in an open street, and couldn't 

326 Some Old Love Stones 

run after him as he kept calling to me to do — 
couldn't run at all." A slight picture — but oh ! 
how eloquent, touching, and maddening ! For this 
woman, who was asked impatiently and perchance 
angrily to run after an omnibus, is dying of heart 
disease, and already has entered into the valley of 
the shadow ! 


Everybody knows of the blaze of light in 
which this tragedy ended. 

In November 1865, Carlyle was elected Lord 
Rector of the Edinburgh University, and in the 
following March he set out to deliver his address. 

There are some journeys which have an immor- 
tality of interest — sometimes they belong to the 
realm of fiction, sometimes to that of fact. Hetty 
Sorrel's journey in hope, and then in despair ; 
the journey of Tess of the D'Urbervilles to the 
house of her lost husband — these are the episodes 
in the lives of the children of the novelist's brain 
which will be read with fresh interest centuries 
after we have passed away. Possibly it is not an 
exaggeration to say that the same perennial 
interest will be taken in the journey of Carlyle 
to deliver his rectorial address at Edinburgh ; for 
with that journey are inseparably connected two 
events which will always be regarded as fraught 
with all the pathos of human destinies. The first 

Carlyle and his Wife 327 

was the final attainment of dignity, popularity, 
universal triumph, by a genius at length liberated 
from a youth and long manhood of drudgery, 
poverty, obscurity, and all the hell of the imagina- 
tive dyspeptic's self-torture ; and the second event 
is the final snapping of the chain which bound 
together a most remarkable man and a most 
remarkable woman in as painful, tragic, thrilling 
a marriage as human history records. 

It is from Professor Tyndall I borrow the account 
of the journey. After many debates with Mrs. 
Carlyle, it was decided that Tyndall should be 
Carlyle's companion and guardian during the 
eventful trip. Every word that Professor Tyndall 
has written on this journey is delightful and 
instructive reading. There is a series of pictures 
of Carlyle, in all his vast variety of moods, which 
gives a very complete and a very lucid idea of his 
strange, fitful, storm-tossed nature. And know- 
ing, as we do, what awaited poor Carlyle after all 
the blaze and tumult of trumpets, there is not an 
episode in the whole journey which has not its 
pathos and its interest. Here is how Carlyle and 
his companion took their departure — 

On the morning of March 29, 1866, I drove to Cheyne 
Row, and found him punctually ready at the appointed hour. 
Order was Carlyle's first law, and punctuality was one of the 
chief factors of order. He was therefore punctual. On a 
table in a small back parlour below stairs stood a siphon, 
protected by wickerwork. Carlyle was conservative in habit, 
and in his old age he held on to the brown brandy which was 


28 Some Old Love Stories 

in vogue in his younger days. Into a tumbler Mrs. Carlyle 
poured a moderate quantity of this brandy, and rilled it up 
with the foaming water from the siphon. He drank it off, 
and they kissed each other — for the last time. At the door 
she suddenly said to me, " For God's sake send me one line 
by telegraph when all is over." This said and the promise 
given, we drove away. 

It had been arranged that Carlyle should make 
a short stay at Fryston, the seat in Yorkshire of 
his old friend, Lord Houghton. The welcome was 
warm to enthusiasm ; but Fryston " was clasped 
as in a ring " by railroads, " and their whistles were 
energetically active all night." 

In the morning I found Carlyle in his bedroom, wild with 
his sufferings. He had not slept a wink. It ought to be 
noted that the day previous he had dined two or three hours 
later than was his wont, and had engaged in a vigorous dis- 
cussion after dinner. Looking at me despairingly he said — 
" I can stay no longer at Fryston, another such night would 
kill me." "You shall do exactly as you please," was my 
reply. " I will explain matters to Lord Houghton, and he, I 
am persuaded, will comply with all your wishes." I spoke to 
Lord Houghton, who, though sorely disappointed, agreed 
that it was best to allow his guest complete freedom of 
action. It was accordingly arranged that we should push 
on to Edinburgh. Carlyle's breakfast was prepared ; he 
partially filled a bowl with strong tea, added milk and an 
egg beaten up. Rendered thus nutritive, the tea seemed to 
soothe and strengthen him. As he breakfasted, our plans 
were discussed. Once, after a pause, he exclaimed — " How 
ungrateful it is on my part, after so much kindness, to quit 
Fryston in this fashion ! " Taking prompt advantage of 
this moment of relenting, I said — " Do not quit it, but stay. 
We will take a pair of horses and gallop over the country for 
five or six hours. When you return you shall have a dinner 
like what you are accustomed to at home, and I will take 
care that there shall be no discussion afterwards." He 

Carlyle and his Wife 329 

laughed, which was a good sign. I stood to my guns, and 
he at length yielded. Lord Houghton joyfully ratified the 
programme, and the two horses were immediately got ready. 

The animal bestrode by Carlyle (continues Professor 
Tyndall) was a large bony grey, with a terribly hard mouth. 
He seemed disposed to bolt, and obviously required a strong 
wrist to rein him in. Carlyle was no longer young ; paralysis 
agitans had enfeebled his right hand — for some time my 
anxiety was great. But after sundry imprecations and 
strenuous backward pulls, the horse was at length clearly 
mastered by its rider, and we fleetly sped along — through 
lanes, over fields, along high-roads, past turnpike gates 
where I paid the toll. This continued for at least five hours, 
at the end of which we returned, and handed the bespattered 
horses over to the groom. The roads and lanes had been 
abominable, mud to the fetlocks, not to speak of the slimy 
fields . . . 

Carlyle went to his room, donned his slippers and his 
respectable grey dressing-gown. Carrying with him one of 
the long "churchwardens" which he always obtained from 
Glasgow, he stuffed it full of tobacco. Choosing a position 
on the carpet by the hall fire which enabled him to send the 
products of combustion up the chimney, to the obvious 
astonishment of the passing servants, he began to smoke. 
Having with me at the time a flask of choice pale brandy, of 
this, mixed with soda-water, I gave him a stiff tumbler. The 
ride had healthily tired him, and he looked the picture of 
content. At six o'clock his simple dinner was set before 
him, and he was warned against discussion. It was the 
traditional warning of the war-horse to be quiet when he 
hears the bugle sound. In the evening discussion began 
with one of the guests, and I could see that Carlyle was 
ready to dash into it as impetuously as he done the night 
before. I laid my hand upon his arm and said sternly — " We 
must have no more of this." He arched his brows good- 
humouredly, burst into laughter, and ended the discussion. 
I accompanied him to his bedroom, every chink and fissure 
of which had been closed to stop out both light and sound. 
" I have no hope of sleep," he said, " and I will come to your 
room at seven in the morning." My reply was — " I think 

330 Some Old Love Stories 

you will sleep, and if so I will come to your room instead of 
your coming to mine." My hopes were mainly founded on 
the vigorous exercise he had taken ; but the next day being 
Good Friday I also hoped for a mitigation of the whistle 

At seven o'clock, accordingly, I stood at his door. There 
was no sound. Returning at eight, I found the same dead 
silence. At nine, hearing a rustle, I opened his door and 
found him dressing ; the change from the previous morning- 
was astonishing. Never before or afterwards did I see Car- 
lyle's countenance glow with such happiness. It was seraphic. 
I have often thought of it since. How in the case of a man 
possessing a range of life wide enough to embrace the 
demoniac and the godlike, a few hours' sound sleep can lift 
him from the hell of the one into the serene heaven of the 
other. The question of sleep or sleeplessness hides many a 
tragedy. He looked at me with boundless blessedness in his 
eyes and voice — " My dear friend, I am a totally new man ; 
I have slept nine hours without once awaking." That night's 
rest proved the prelude and guarantee of his subsequent 
triumph at Edinburgh. 

At last Carlyle and Professor Tyndall arrived at 
Edinburgh ; but here their troubles were not over. 
Sir David Brewster was in a dreadful state of alarm. 
" Why," he said to Tyndall, " Carlyle has not written 
a word of his address, and no Rector of this Univer- 
sity ever appeared before his audience without this 
needful preparation." But Tyndall did not have 
any fears on this ground, "being well aware of 
Carlyle's marvellous power of utterance when he 
had fair play." What he did fear was that Carlyle 
might be disabled by dyspepsia and insomnia. At 
last the great moment came. 

The degrees conferred, a fine, tall young fellow rose and 
proclaimed with ringing voice from the platform the honour 

Carlyle and his Wife 331 

that had been conferred on the foremost of living Scotchmen. 
The cheers were loud and long. Carlyle stood up, threw off 
his robe, like an ancient David declining the unproved 
armour of Saul, and in his carefully-brushed, brown morning- 
coat came forward to the table. With nervous fingers he 
grasped the leaf, and stooping over it, looked earnestly down 
upon the audience. " They tell me," he said, " that I ought 
to have written this address, and out of deference to the 
counsel, I tried to do so, once, twice, thrice. But what I wrote 
was only fit for the fire, and to the fire it was compendiously 
committed. You must therefore listen to and accept what I 
say to you as coming straight from the heart." He began, 
and the world already knows what he said. I attended more 
to the aspect of the audience than to the speech of the orator, 
which contained nothing new to me. I could, however, mark 
its influence on the palpitating crowd below. They were 
stirred as if by subterranean fire. For an hour and a half he 
held them spellbound, and when he ended, the emotion pre- 
viously pent up burst forth in a roar of acclamation. With 
a joyful heart and clear conscience I could redeem my pro- 
mise to Mrs. Carlyle. From the nearest telegraph-office I 
sent her a despatch of three words — " A perfect triumph," 
and returned towards the hall. Noticing a commotion in 
the street, I came up with the crowd. It was no street 
brawl, it was not the settlement of a quarrel, but a consensus 
of acclamation, cheers, and :< bravos," and a general shying 
of caps into the air ! Looking ahead, I saw two venerable 
old men walking slowly arm-in-arm in advance of the crowd. 
They were Carlyle and Erskine. The Rector's audience had 
turned out to do honour to their hero. Nothing in the whole 
ceremony affected Carlyle so deeply as this display of fervour 
in the open air. 

Mrs. Carlyle, who had been awaiting the news 
with agonized suspense, received the telegram at 
five minutes past six in the evening. She describes 
what happened in one of the last letters she ever 
wrote to Carlyle. 

332 Some Old Love Stories 

Mrs. Warren and Maggie were helping to dress me for 
Forster's birthday, when the telegraph-boy gave his double- 
knock. " There it is ! " I said. " I am afraid, cousin, it is only 
the postman," said Maggie. Jessie rushed up with the tele- 
gram. I tore it open and read — " From John Tyndall " (Oh, 
God bless John Tyndall in this world and the next !) — "To 
Mrs. Carlyle. A perfect triumph ! ; ' I read it to myself, 
and then read it aloud to the gaping chorus. And chorus 
all began to dance and clap their hands. " Eh, Mrs. Car- 
lyle ! Eh, hear to that ! " cried Jessie. " I told you, ma'am," 
cried Mrs. Warren, " I told you how it would be." " I'm so 
glad, cousin ! you'll be all right now, cousin," twittered Maggie, 
executing a sort of leap-frog round me. And they went on 
clapping their hands, till there arose among them a sudden 
cry for brandy ! " Get her some brandy ! " " Do, ma'am, 
swallow this spoonful of brandy ; just a spoonful ! " For, you 
see, the sudden solution of the nervous tension with which I 
had been holding in my anxieties for days — nay, weeks past 
— threw me into as pretty a little fit of hysterics as you ever 

I went to Forster's nevertheless, with my telegram in my 
hand, and " John Tyndall " in the core of my heart ! And it 
was pleasant to see with what hearty good-will all there — 
Dickens and Wilkie Collins as well as Fuz — received the 
news ; and we drank your health with great glee. 


It was thought advisable that Carlyle should 
have some rest in Scotland before returning to 
Cheyne Row. His wife and he corresponded regu- 
larly after their invariable fashion, amid all their 
sad misunderstandings and quarrels. I quote from 

Anxiety about the speech and its concomitants had, as 
Mrs. Carlyle expressed it, "tattered her to fiddle-strings." 
The sudden relief, when it was over, was scarcely less trying. 

Carlyle and his Wife 333 

She had visitors to see, who came with their congratulations. 
She had endless letters to receive answer. To escape from 
part of this she had gone to Windsor, to spend two days 
with her friend Mrs. Oliphant, and had greatly enjoyed her 
visit. On coming back she had dined with Lady William 
Russell, in Audley Square, and had there a smart passage of 
words with Mr. Hayward on the Jamaica disturbances, the 
news of which, and of Governor Eyre's action, had just 
arrived. The chief subject of conversation everywhere was 
her husband's address, and of this there was nothing said 
but good. Tyndall came back. She saw him, heard all 
particulars from him, and was made perfectly happy about 
it. Carlyle himself would be home in a day or two. For 
Saturday the 21st, purposely that it might be got over before 
his arrival, she had invited a small party to tea. 

Principal Tulloch and his wife were in London ; they 
wished to meet me or else I to meet them, I forget which it 
was. I hope the desire was mutual. I, the Tullochs, Mr. 
and Mrs. Spottiswoode, and Mrs. Oliphant were to be Mrs. 
Carlyle's guests in Cheyne Row that evening. Geraldine 
Jewsbury, who was then living in Markham Square, was 
to assist in entertaining us. That morning Mrs. Carlyle 
wrote her daily letter to Carlyle, and took it herself to the 

In the afternoon she went out in her brougham for the 
usual drive round Hyde Park, taking her little dog with her. 
Nero lay under a stone in the garden at Cheyne Row, but 
she loved all kinds of animals, dogs especially, and had 
found another to succeed him. Near Victoria Gate she had 
put the dog out to run. A passing carriage went over its 
foot, and, more frightened than hurt, it lay on the road on 
its back crying. She sprang out, caught the dog in her 
arms, took it with her into the brougham, and was never 
more seen alive. The coachman went twice round the drive, 
by Marble Arch down to Stanhope Gate, ,along the Ser- 
pentine, and round again. Coming a second time near the 
Hercules statue and surprised to receive no directions, he 
turned round, saw indistinctly something was wrong, and 
asked a gentleman near to look into the carriage. The 
gentleman told him briefly to take the lady to St. George's 

334 Some Old Love Stories 

Hospital, which was not two hundred yards distant. She was 
sitting with her hands folded on her lap, dead. 

Froude had remained at home that day ; in the 
evening he was to have met Mrs. Carlyle, as has 
been seen. A servant came from the housekeeper 
at Cheyne Row with the news that an accident 
had happened to Mrs. Carlyle, and asking him to 
go at once to St. George's Hospital. 

Instinct told me what it must be. I went on the way to 
Geraldine ; she was getting ready for the party, and supposed 
I had called to take her there. I told her the message I had 
received. She flung a cloak about her, and we drove to the 
hospital together. 

There on a bed in a small room lay Mrs. Carlyle, 
beautifully dressed, dressed, as she always was, in perfect 
taste. Nothing had been touched. Her bonnet had not 
been taken off. It was as if she had sat upon the bed after 
leaving the brougham, and had fallen back upon it asleep. But 
there was an expression on her face which was not sleep, and 
which, long as I had known her, resembled nothing which I 
had ever seen there before. The forehead, which had been 
contracted in life by continual pain, had spread out to its 
natural breadth, and I saw for the first time how magnificent 
it was ! The brilliant mockery, the sad softness with which 
the mockery alternated, both were alike gone. The features 
lay composed in a stern majestic calm. I have seen many 
faces beautiful in death, but none so grand as hers. 

Carlyle heard of the news by telegram, and 
sixteen hours after this fatal announcement, he 
received a letter — the letter from her already 
mentioned, cheery and merry. The grief and 
despair of his loneliness ever after are well known. 
If he had wronged her — as he had — she was 

Carlyle and his Wife 335 

On the Monday following the death, Carlyle 
returned with his brother John to London. 
" Never," says Carlyle, " for one thousand years 
should I forget that arrival here of ours, my first 
unwelcomed by her. She lay in her coffin, lovely 
in death." 

Tyndall was soon with him. 

I drove forthwith to Chelsea. The door was opened by 
Carlyle's old servant, Mrs. Warren, who informed me that 
her master was in the garden. I joined him there, and we 
immediately went up-stairs together. It would be idle, 
perhaps sacrilegious, on my part to attempt any repetition of 
his language. In words, the flow of which might be com- 
pared to a molten torrent, he referred to the early days of 
his wife and himself, to their struggles against poverty and 
obstruction ; to her valiant encouragement in hours of de- 
pression ; to their life on the moors, in Edinburgh, and in 
London ; how lovingly and loyally she had made of herself 
a soft cushion to protect him from the rude collisions of the 
world. The late Mr. Venables, whose judgment on such a 
point may be trusted, often spoke to me of Carlyle's extra- 
ordinary power of conversation. In his noon of life it was 
without a parallel. And now, with the flood-gates of grief 
fully opened, that power rose to a height which it had 
probably never attained before. Three or four times during 
the narrative he utterly broke down. I could see the ap- 
proach of the crisis, and prepared for it. After thus giving 
way, a few sympathetic words would cause him to rapidly 
pull himself together, and resume the flow of his discourse. 
I subsequently tried to write down what he said, but I will 
not try to reproduce it here. While he thus spoke to me, all 
that remained of his wife lay silent in an adjoining room. 

^6 Some Old Love Stories 



She was buried in Haddington, by the side of 
that father whom she had so deeply loved. Carlyle 
depicts his feelings with singular beauty — 

I looked out (he says) upon the spring fields, the everlasting 
skies in silence ... I went out to walk in the smooth, silent 
streets ... I looked up at the windows of the old room, 
where I had first seen her, after sunset, six-and-forty years 
ago ... I retired to my room ; slept none all night . . . 
but lay silent in the great silence. 

Thursday, April 26. — Wandered out into the churchyard 
... At one p.m. came the funeral . . . Silent, small, only 
twelve old friends and two volunteers besides us there. Very 
beautiful and noble to me, and I laid her in the grave of her 
father, according to covenant of forty years back — and all was 
ended. In the nave of the old abbey kirk, long a ruin, now 
being saved from further decay, with the skies looking down 
on her, there sleeps my little Jeannie, and the light of her 
face will never shine on me more. 

In Mrs. Ireland's biography there is a description 
by John Swinton, a well-known American writer, 
of Carlyle at his wife's grave, which, though some- 
what highly coloured, after the manner of trans- 
atlantic narration, is yet too graphic and touching 
to be omitted. 

"And Mr. Carlyle," said the sexton, "comes from London 
now and then to see this grave. He is a gaunt, shaggy, 
weird kind of old man, looking very old the last time he was 
here." " He is eighty-six now," said I. " Aye," he repeated, 
" eighty-six, and comes here to this grave all the way from 
London." And I told him that Carlyle was a great man, the 
greatest man of the age in books, and that his name was known 

Carlyle and his Wife 2>o7 

all over the world ; but the sexton thought there were other 
great men lying near at hand, though I told him their fame 
did not reach beyond the graveyard, and brought him back 
to talk of Carlyle. " Mr. Carlyle himself," said the grave- 
digger softly, " is to be brought here to be buried with his 
wife. Aye, he comes here lonesome and alone," continued 
the grave-digger, " when he visits his wife's grave. His niece 
keeps him company to the gate, but he leaves her there, and 
she stays there for him. The last time he was here I got a 
sight of him, and he was bowed down under his white hairs, 
and he took his way up by that ruined wall of the old 
cathedral, and round there and in here by the gateway, and 
he tottered up here to this spot." Softly spake the grave- 
digger, and paused. Softer still, in the broad dialect of the 
Lothians, he proceeded — " And he stood here awhile in the 
grass, and then he kneeled down and stayed on his knees at 
the grave ; then he bent over, and I saw him kiss the ground — 
aye, he kissed it again and again, and he kept kneeling, and 
it was a long time before he rose and tottered out of the 
cathedral and wandered through the graveyard to the gate, 
where his niece was waiting for him." 

And on this scene in the tragedy let the curtain 

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